Well that’s one way to boost your ratings. Last night, David Letterman stunned first his studio audience and then viewers at home when he sat down at his desk and revealed candid details about a blackmail plot against him.
The show opened as it does every night, with Letterman taking pot shots at some of his favorite targets, like Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney.
But after the host moved into position behind his desk, instead of banter with bandleader Paul Shaffer or the usual series of 2 or 3 minute comedy bits, he drew the audience in for story time.
“I’m glad you folks are here tonight,” he said to the crowd sitting in the Ed Sullivan Theatre. “I’m glad you’re in such a pleasant mood, because I have a little story that I would like to tell you and the home viewers as well. Do you feel like a story?”
And then, over the next 10 minutes, the one-time weatherman from the northside Indianapolis suburb of Broad Ripple proceeded to unspool a narrative that at times left his audience feeling uneasy, shocked, outraged and, ultimately, supportive.
Letterman revealed that three weeks ago he got into his limo, only to find a package with a letter that read, “I know that you do some terrible, terrible things and that I can prove that you do some terrible things.” Inside the package was proof of the allegations.
The normally jocular host acknowledged that he was terrified “because there’s something insidious about [it]” and he was worried about where his accuser might be at that moment.
Letterman said rather than hide in fear he immediately took action, calling his lawyer to set up a meeting with the man, who had threatened to write a screenplay and a book detailing the indiscretions unless he was paid $2 million.
When the audience responded to the blackmail amount with sounds most often reserved for an impressive fireworks display, Letterman reinforced his feelings about the situation.
“I want to reiterate how terrifying this is,” the notoriously private comedian said. “I’m motivated by nothing but guilt. I’m a towering mass of Lutheran Midwestern guilt.”
Letterman continued, relating how after two more meetings under the supervision of the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which had been contacted by his lawyer, the blackmailer was arrested with a bogus check in hand.
And then the man who has probably done more than anyone else to make straight-faced irony the bedrock of American comedy over the past quarter of a century did something unexpected: He told the unvarnished truth.
With viewers in the studio (and later, across the country) no doubt expecting the worst, Letterman said there were allegations against him that he had sex with women who worked for him – and then confirmed those allegations.
“My response to that is, yes, I have. I have had sex with women who work on this show,” he admitted.
After explaining that his motivation for coming clean was as much to protect the women involved and his family as himself, Letterman thanked the audience for listening and then, barely missing a beat, moved on to interviewing Woody Harrelson about his new film “Zombieland.”
Since Letterman made his on-air confession, the alleged extortionist in this bizarre case has been identified as Robert Joel Halderman, who goes by the name Joe Halderman and is a respected veteran producer for CBS’ “48 Hours.” The network said today Halderman has been suspended pending an investigation.
While nothing is known for sure at the moment about Halderman’s motivation for blackmailing Letterman, Newsday notes that he had recently been through a bitter divorce with a woman who worked on “48 Hours” and with Letterman.
People reports former Letterman assistant Stephanie Birkitt lived with Halderman until recently and NYC's FOX 5 News obtained a search warrant that revealed parts of Birkitt's diary and personal correspondence were in the package left for the talk show host. Other news outlets are reporting that the producer was paying nearly $6000 a month in child support.
Halderman was indicted this morning by the Manhattan district attorney’s office on one count of attempted first-degree grand larceny, punishable by five to 15 years upon conviction. At his arraignment later in the day, he pleaded not guilty. Bail has been set at $200,000.
Now the question is, did Letterman do the right thing by coming clean about this as soon as possible? Or to be more specific, although his audience yesterday in New York City supported him, will this revelation hurt his career in the long run?
Friday, October 2
Roger Daltrey – “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”
BeBe & CeCe Winans – “The Tavis Smiley Show”
T.J. Miller, Jen Kirkman, John Caparulo – “Chelsea Lately”
Joshua Bell, Tiempo Libre – “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien”
Shinedown – “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”
Saturday, October 3
Dave Matthews Band – “Austin City Limits” – rerun
Lady Gaga – “Saturday Night Live”
Monday, October 5
Melissa Etheridge – “Live with Regis and Kelly”
Heather McDonald, Johnny Sanchez, Jason Sklar – “Chelsea Lately”
Steve Martin – “Late Show with David Letterman”
Jamie Fox – “The Jay Leno Show”
Dierks Bentley – “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien”
Kristen Wiig, Christopher Cross – “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”
David Alan Grier, Pink – “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” – rerun
Jack Ingram – “Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”
Pete Yorn – “Last Call with Carson Daly”