Letterman plans new daytime approach
By Tom Jory
NBC cleared some space on the 10th floor of the RCA Building not long ago, and David Letterman & Co. moved in to begin work on a show designed to put a new front on the network’s daytime schedule.
“It’s worse than world famine,” said Letterman. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen. If it doesn’t work, I head for Guatemala and spend the rest of my life there.
“Seriously, there have been daytime alternative programs before,” he said, “and come to think of it, there is nothing new about this one.”
In fact, “The David Letterman Show,” to be broadcast Monday through Friday (9-10:30 a.m. on Channel 15), beginning June 23, represents a rather significant development in daytime television.
Game shows — “Card Sharks,” “Hollywood Squares” and “High Rollers” — currently are broadcast in the time period. NBC has not announced the fate of the three programs. Beginning in October, NBC will follow “The David Letterman Show” with a 30-minute midday newscast.
“The David Letterman Show” will be broadcast live from Studio 6A in the RCA Building, the network’s Rockefeller Center headquarters. The studio was home for NBC’s “Tonight” before Johnny Carson took the show to the West Coast in 1971.
Letterman, a comic perhaps best-known to TV watchers as a regular sub for Carson as host of “Tonight,” will play to an unfamiliar audience — a fact that doesn’t seem to have him worried.
“I looked at the idea when they called — they being Fred; this is his building, so I call him Fred — and it sounded pretty good.
“I had this deal for a late night pilot, which would ‘ have been just that — on once, late at night — and I didn’t want to do anything for prime-time. I couldn’t see myself in a sitcom as the kooky next-door neighbor. This was a 26-week commitment, a chance to experiment on the air.
“It may not be the high side of glory,” Letterman said, “but it sounds like fun.”
Bob Stewart, creator of game shows like “The Price is Right,” “To Tell the Truth,” “Password” and “The $20,000 Pyramid,” was hired to produce “The David Letterman Show,” and Letterman brought along comedians Edie McClurg, Valri Bromfield and Bob Sarlatte as regulars.
Mark Goldstein, another comic, was signed on to tour the country by bus, reporting regularly — on the air — to Letterman, and Senator William Proxmire, D-Wis., and columnist Jimmy Breslin were summoned as weekly contributors to the show.
Letterman, 33, is a native of Indianapolis and a graduate of Ball State University.
He has worked in both radio and television and is “well known and loved, having appeared on all your favorite shows, including NBC-TV’s The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’ (both as host and David Letterman
guest), ‘Merv Griffin’ and ‘Hollywood Squares.'” The resume is from Letterman’s official NBC biography.
“Realistically,” he said, “it’s not going to be 100 percent, 90 minutes a day, five days a week. We are going to say, ‘This is the least we can do,’ and do nothing less than that.
“What I’m trying to do now,” he added, “is give everything to everybody else. And we’ve got some really talented people.”
Several periodic features are planned. Letterman said he will keep track of the show’s softball team in Columbia, Mo., and will speak by phone from time to time with members of two average American families.
“All of this could go up in smoke the first day, he said. “I could be the only one amused, and they’d bring back the game shows.”