Letterman re-ups with CBS, 'Nightline' to stay put
NEW YORK (CNN) -- After much handwringing, late-night talk show host David Letterman said Monday he will remain at CBS.
The acerbic host of the "Late Show with David Letterman" had also been courted by ABC, where the critically acclaimed "Nightline" is in the same time period and could have been canceled or moved to another time slot had Letterman moved to ABC.
Soon after the announcement, ABC announced that late-night news show "Nightline" will remain -- for the time being -- in its current slot.
"The whole thing has made me dizzy," Letterman told his audience at the beginning of Monday's show, which was taped during the afternoon in New York. "This has not been an easy decision."
Letterman praised "Nightline" host Ted Koppel.
"What he has done and his contributions to American culture speak for themselves," Letterman said. "He is one of a very small group of men and women who represent the absolute highest echelon of broadcast achievement."
He added: "This guy, at the very least, deserves the right to determine his own professional future. He deserves absolutely no less than that."
Letterman, the former weatherman from Indiana who has long taken potshots at his network bosses, said the practice would not stop just because he has signed up for another term.
"I don't want the morons running this network to think that there won't be fistfights from here on out, because, by God, there's gonna be fistfights, and too bad."
Still, he said, he hopes to finish his career at CBS.
About his discussions with ABC, Letterman was complimentary. "They were gracious, they were generous, they were very, very patient."
But, he added, "My personal hope is that it [the time slot] will continue to be occupied by Ted Koppel and 'Nightline' for as long as that guy wants to have that job, because that's just the way it ought to be."
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, ABC Television Network President Alex Wallau offered no apologies to the journalists at "Nightline," many of whom felt their bosses showed they did not value the stories they have produced for more than two decades.
Wallau said the network's goal had been "to provide a top-quality schedule with strong audience appeal. In today's competitive environment, it is incumbent upon us to explore all programming options, and the 'Late Show with David Letterman' was an opportunity that ABC felt compelled to pursue."
"From the outset, we've always said that Ted Koppel and 'Nightline' would have a significant presence at ABC News. 'Nightline' will remain in its time period, where it will continue to provide its distinctive brand of journalism for the network."
Koppel and 'Nightline' executive producers, Tom Bettag and Leroy Sievers, said they wished Letterman well at CBS. "These cannot have been easy days for him. They have certainly not been for us."
But the journalists said the fact that ABC and Disney, its corporate parent, had considered dumping their show for Letterman's slightly younger viewers and the higher advertising rates they command had had a negative impact, and they asked for reassurance from their corporate owners.
"We are sure that Disney, in it's [sic] efforts to sign Mr. Letterman, did not intend to inflict any damage on ABC News in general or 'Nightline' in particular; but intentionally or not, collateral damage has been done.
"We hope the corporate leadership of Disney understands that it would not be reasonable to expect all of us at 'Nightline' to continue our work in a climate of ongoing uncertainty. There must be a great many talented comedians who would welcome the opportunity to take over the 'Nightline' time slot.
"Our hope is that Disney will send a clear and unmistakable signal to them, to us, to the advertising community and to all of our loyal viewers interested in the robust future of network television news that 'Nightline' can count on serious corporate backing.
"No one in this business expects a program to last in perpetuity, but we need something more than bland assurances or a short-term guarantee. We need to be able to plan, to prepare, to settle down to work again."
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