While David Letterman is going out as the “King of the Late Night Talk Shows” on his own terms, with his final year as the host of The Late Show with David Letterman basically a big celebration of his 33-year-long stint as a late night talk show host, there was a time in 2009 when his career was almost ended by a sex scandal. Letterman opened up to the New York Times and talked to them about the sex scandal, and his having had sex with several of the women on his staff while at the same time being married.
David Letterman, 68, said in the interview that CBS “would have had good reason to fire me,” though he did not think, back in 2009, that what he had done was a very big deal. The full implications did not really dawn on him at first.
According to Letterman, he knew that he was a person who “had an intimate relationship with somebody he shouldn’t have had an intimate relationship with.” He just did not think it was earth-shattering news. He said in the interview he thought “who hasn’t” done that sort of thing in his life.
He did not stop to think until later that the lives of other people were involved, and their reputations and the reputation of CBS. He said that he owes CBS for not having fired him.
One of the names that came out was that of his former assistant, Stephanie Birkitt. Letterman would often act like he was annoyed with her, and use his desk phone to call her up and ask her why she had done certain things. She became a fairly regular presence on the show, until the scandal broke and the news came out that she was one of the women that the late night talk show host had had sex with. Letterman apologized on air during an episode of his show to his wife and his staff.
Birkitt had lived with another CBS employee, former CBS producer, Robert J. Halderman, and further scandal and embarrassment was added when the news came out that Halderman attempted to extort $2 million from Letterman. If the talk show host refused to pay up, Halderman told him that he would write a screenplay and a book about how Letterman’s having had sex with several female members of his staff.
David Letterman acted as if he was going along with Halderman’s demand, but he was actually setting the former CBS exec up. After Letterman handed over a fake check to Halderman, he had the would-be extorter arrested. He stated at the time in an article reported by Popsugar that “I had to go downtown and testify before a grand jury.”
Letterman stated that he did it because he felt the need that he had to protect the names of his staff members. He added “I need to certainly protect my family.”
David Letterman somehow managed to survive both the sex scandal and the threat of blackmail that followed it, to continue on as the host of the Late Show. His last day as the host of the show will be May 20. Stephen Colbert will take over as the new host on September 8, 2015.
Written By Douglas Cobb