Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Letterman Ready to Face Scrutiny

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Letterman Ready to Face Scrutiny

Article excerpt

IT'S a good thing David Letterman's new CBS talk show premieres tonight, because he and his staff have been going crazy not being on the air for the first time since 1982.

"We had a very predictable schedule. Suddenly, you take that structure out of your lives, and I'll just say we had to put a lot of people in counseling," Letterman said. "We've had way too much free time."

Letterman has devoted much of that time to working on new bits for "Late Show" on his new network. "I spent the day wrestling with Andy Rooney," he said, "and I was in New Jersey with Zsa Zsa Gabor."

Letterman jumped to CBS when he wasn't chosen to succeed Johnny Carson as host of "The Tonight Show." But the pain of losing what he described as his "first desire in life" seems to be fading.

"I guess I think less and less about that all the time," he said. In fact, the new show "has more of a feeling for me and our staff than maybe `The Tonight Show.' "

It also means a lot more money: Letterman's three-year contract reportedly is worth $42 million.

He insists the money and increased fame hasn't changed him. "I don't think I am much different," he said. "I don't think I merit any more attention now than I did when I was in Indianapolis working at a television station."

Whether he wants it or not, the scrutiny will be intense.

When Jay Leno became permanent host of "Tonight," many critics complained he took the edge off his humor in an effort to appeal to Carson's audience. Those same TV pundits will be watching closely for any changes in Letterman's style.

He insists they won't detect any.

"I'm happier to be on an hour earlier," he said. "Will it alter the content or will it alter the attitude? I just don't think so."

Letterman also noted that his last anniversary show, which aired in prime time, "was very, very successful. It got huge ratings."

Still, he knows he's at a disadvantage when it comes to ratings, as he goes head-to-head with "Tonight." (That won't happen in St. Louis and at a third of CBS' other affiliates, which have chosen to delay Letterman to 11:05 to keep lucrative syndicated programming at 10:35. …

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