Weighing in on Letterman: Already Yesterday’s News?

David Letterman has two responsibilities: To be funny and to bring in ratings.

He’s doing both.

Since the television talk show host’s October 1st admission of a $2 million blackmail attempt against him, and, shall we say, details of workplace complications, there have been calls for his resignation, allegations of sexual harassment, sordid details involving alleged extortionist Robert Halderman and plenty of amateur, armchair analysis.

Even the right-wing, radio talk show Napoleons are calling for Letterman’s head, obviously still stung by the host’s less-than-tasteful recent jokes about Sarah Palin at the ball game.

But as often happens in scenarios like these, those covering the events–whether personalities on “Extra,” “Entertainment Tonight”and their many clones–will probably become more famous than the folks involved in the actual events.

Ultimately, in this sound-bite media world, as yet another would-be scandal erupts in Lotus-Land, all will untimately be forgotten. And soon.

Scandal-wise, how much talk do we hear about Pee Wee Herman and Hugh Grant these days? And does anyone remember that talk show host Bill Maher was slapped with a $9 million palimony suit in 2004? Or sportscaster Marv Albert’s 1997 conviction for sexual assault? Albert, fired by NBC in 1997, was rehired two years later and has since been all over the airwaves. Does anyone remember or care about Woody Allen’s 1997 marriage Soon-Yi Previn, the adapted daughter of his former lover, Mia Farrow? Career damage? Allen has participated in the making of almost two dozen films since that scandal.

Such is the nature of today’s celebrity, the blur between fiction and reality, the increasingly disposable, “that was yesterday” idea of contemporary journalism, and, truth be told, the pervading attitude of “who really gives a darn anyway?”

Regarding justice and the Letterman issue, only blackmailer Halderman has stepped forward thus far. No one in the work place has yet to make a complaint against Letterman. So why should Letterman be fired?

However, in today’ wacky world, it may be too soon to speak of such things, as one gets the sense that others may magically appear in pursuit of their 15 minutes of fame.

Other than Letterman himself, in a brilliant, audience-manipulation move–indeed, most the audience who heard his live, October 1st admission thought it was just another Letterman “bit”–no one has said he’s done anything wrong.

This is not to say the comic is guilt-free. It’s just that no one has accused him of anything. Yet.

If one operates under the presumption that something inappropriate did take place, it is important–if only to place these alleged actions in the proper perspective–that none of this is really “news,” other than the blackmail attempt.

The concept of the Hollywood “casting couch,” i.e., trading sexual favors for parts in films, television, etc., has been around since the invention of the movie camera, and has extended to wherever power is involved.

Think politics.

And if anyone thinks this idea is a new one and that what Letterman supposedly did is unique, one only has to comb the public library and read the biographies of celebs like Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, Elvis,Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and dozens of others, past, present and future. That list would also include one John F. Kennedy.

No, none of this is “right” or politically correct. It’s just that it’s nothing new and not really news. Well, it may be today, but tomorrow is another matter.

And yes, over the past several years, given the fact that more females than ever are in power in the Hollywood workplace, there’s a lot of talk about the idea of a “reverse” casting couch. That’s another story for another time.

Some have said, given contemporary attitudes, the casting couch, as we knew it, no longer exists. Others maintain that as long as someone wants to be on television or in the movies–to say nothing of politics–the couch stands.

I have a call into Sid Caesar, Joan Rivers, and various others, for comments about this. I’d bet they have a lot to say.George Gobel is unavailable.

But if anyone is in contact with Woody Allen, feel free to get a quote from him as well.

The point is, all of this will play out and will go away.

In some unfortunate cases in entertainment history, things didn’t go away.

On January 18, 1943, legendary jazz drummer Gene Krupa finished his show at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco. Waiting for him offstage were two, Federal narco agents, ready to frame the jazz great on a trumped-up marijuana possession charge.

Though the details are unimportant, Krupa served less than 90 days in jail on charges–all eventually dropped–that had nothing to do with drug use or possession.

But for some reason, the image and the stigma stuck, and as sucessful as Krupa was for the duration of his career–he remained the “world’s most famous drummer” until his death in 1973–there would always be whispers of Gene being “on the stuff.”

On December 8, 1963, Frank Sinatra, Jr.was kidnapped and held for $240,000 ransom. After being held hostage for two days, Sinatra was released, his kidnappers were captured and arrested. The defense, at trial, was that Frankie staged his own kidnapping to publicize his singing career and to get the attention of his father. While those allegations were disproven and the kidnappers sentenced to prision, this “staging” idea stayed in minds of the public at large for years and ultimately helped destroy whatever chance Frankie might have had at a major show biz career. It dogged him for years and still does.

The Letterman brohaha, however, will fade quickly and become, like so many other similar stories, yesterday’s news.

The story, like an MTV clip or a bite from “Extra” will, deservedly, become yesterday’s news.

And if Letterman goes anywhere–and don’t count on it–it won’t be long before he’ll be back. We hear Jay Leno’s slot may be available soon.

Comments are closed.