David Letterman: A butt of late-night show hosts’ ridicule

NEW YORK: US late-night hosts didn’t waste a moment poking fun at the troubles of one of their own, after a CBS newsman was charged with trying to blackmail David Letterman for $2 million in a plot that forced the late-night comic to acknowledge having sex with some of the women who have worked for him.

The bizarre case has created a messy legal and professional problem for one of CBS’ most valuable personalities. Commentators and bloggers quickly accused Letterman of hypocrisy because he has made a career of mocking politicians mercilessly, often for their sexual transgressions.

Robert J “Joe” Halderman, a producer for the true-crime show “48 Hours Mystery,” pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan court to one count of attempted first-degree grand larceny, punishable by five to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors said Halderman, who was released after posting $200,000 bail, was desperate and deep in debt.

Jay Leno, Letterman’s longtime late-night rival, kicked off his monologue Friday on NBC: “If you came here tonight for sex with a talk show host, you’ve got the wrong studio.” On NBC’s “Late Night,” Jimmy Fallon also worked it into his monologue: “There’s a new book out called “Why Women Have Sex” that says there are 237 reasons why women have sex. And folks, Letterman knows the top 10.” Letterman’s show regularly features a satirical Top Ten List usually inspired by topical news and entertainment items.

It remains to be seen whether Letterman will suffer long-term damage just as his career appears to be peaking. Letterman has taken over as the king of late-night in the ratings this summer, and last week he beat NBC’s “Tonight” show host Conan O’Brien for the first time among young viewers.

Friday night’s “Late Show” was taped in advance on Thursday, meaning Letterman won’t be taping an episode after his revelation until at least Monday. But Friday’s show did include a moment - coincidental in retrospect - when guest Larry David unwittingly suggested that he beat Letterman’s record of having the fewest number of dates for someone with a TV show. “Oh, I don’t know,” replied Letterman, grinning knowingly. Halderman’s connection to Letterman was not immediately clear, but public records show that until August, he lived in Norwalk, Connecticut.