Tuesday, March 12, 2002
New York David Letterman decided to stick with CBS on Monday, spurning a multimillion-dollar offer to jump to ABC.
The talk show host made the announcement directly to his fans at the taping of his first show back from a week's vacation in St. Bart's. While he was away, the television world was buzzing about his future.
After an opening monologue where he joked about the network courtship, Letterman sat down at his desk, told a story about when he came to CBS in 1993, and announced he was staying put.
The "Late Show" host's contract with CBS was due to expire this summer.
It was a bitter disappointment for ABC, now left to salve the wounds that the Letterman flirtation created within its news division. ABC let it be known that it would replace Ted Koppel's "Nightline" with Letterman if it had succeeded in luring him.
Letterman was flattered by all of the attention from ABC, said Rob Burnett, president of Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants.
Burnett said that the fact Letterman "has been here nine years and built a franchise was too much for Dave to walk away from."
Before his announcement, the 54-year-old Letterman joked about the attention.
"This is how strange my life has been the last week," he said. "Earlier today, I got a call from NBC offering me 'The Tonight Show.'"
That joke had a certain edge to it: NBC's decision to name Jay Leno host of "The Tonight Show" in 1993 led to Letterman jumping to CBS.
Letterman also said that at CBS, "all of a sudden they can't suck up to me enough. I finally got a get-well card from my bypass surgery two years ago."
He may have used humor to barely disguise a truth: The negotiations with CBS were said to be contentious, giving ABC more of a chance to land him than many thought possible.
ABC and CBS were reportedly dangling similar financial offers, deals that would pay Letterman about $31 million a year. The networks were touting the promotional muscle of their parent companies, Viacom for CBS and the Walt Disney Co. for ABC.
There were no details immediately released about the terms or length of the contract.
Letterman promos were highly visible last weekend on CBS, particularly during the network's college basketball coverage.
CBS has reportedly promised Letterman greater promotion on other Viacom-owned networks, including MTV and VH1.
There was no immediate comment from ABC entertainment executives, but ABC News President David Westin said: "I've always strongly believed in 'Nightline,' and I'm gratified that it will remain in its time period."