Like most viewers watching the Late Show with David Letterman last Thursday, I was caught off guard by his confession. Was he telling a joke or was he really opening up to the audience in a way we haven't seen since his heart problems a few years ago? Having also been accused by a former girlfriend of walking that fine line between joking and telling the truth, I remembered trying to break up with her only to have her say "Stop kidding or I'll think you're serious!" Awkward moment ensued.
In realizing that Letterman was actually confessing, my first thought was one of empathy. I mean, the guy has been one of my heroes since the 1980s when I was an undergrad at Bowdoin College and I would settle in front of the TV essentially saying "show me the funny". Studying for me started at 1 AM after his then-NBC show aired. (Obviously I wasn't the most scholarly student, but Bowdoin fortuitously dropped letter grades during the draft in the 60's, so even if I wasn't that smart in school, at least was smart in picking the school.)
Over the next couple of days, the press picked up steam on the story which has proven to have more legs than a 30 year-old case involving a famous cinema director raping a 13 year-old girl. The real story there is the sympathetic support he continues to receive from his contemporaries, including Woody Allen (no slouch in scene-stealing sexual antics himself), and the fact that being exiled in France may or may not count as punishment.
Letterman's story, in stark contrast, is that he is possibly a victim of an alleged extortion scheme involving a CBS producer who was the bitter ex-boyfriend of one of Letterman's favored assistants. It made for salacious news because the woman worked for the show, is attractive, considerably younger, and fortunately for YouTube viewers, a repeat guest on his shows.
On Friday, I applauded Letterman for taking to the airwaves and proactively coming out and admitting the affair. He seemingly nipped things in the bud by coming clean. Sure, he is married and a new father, but Letterman had been a bachelor for many years and this indiscretion, though not minor, did not diminish my opinion of the man. Yes, he cheated on his wife, but that was something he would have to deal with on a personal level, and they can choose to save the marriage or end it. This man is not running for governor or a civil servant; he is a famous television personality and I would definitely at this point agree with Charles Barkley that he is just not a role model, nor should he be held to those standards just because he's famous.
But over the weekend, I had a change of heart and, as much as it exposes me underscoring more business scruples than personal morals, I will explain it to the best of my ability:
By his admission, he cheated on his wife. I'm sure a good number of relationships fail due to infidelity. Going into a relationship, the topic comes up often. Although I'm single at the moment (see previous blog posting) I was accused of having something called "an emotional affair." Try defending that! (Humor definitely did not diffuse that situation with and an FYI to all you "emotional players" in the house.)
In my revised opinion, the bigger failing was to his company and employees. Not because every female employee is now finding herself doing a poor impersonation of Shaggy's "It wasn't me!" but that it exposes the misogynistic expression I loathe -- but of course will now use -- of how wrong it is to "dip the pen in the company ink."
When I first moved to LA one of my female coworkers was dating the boss. Both were single but the relationship was not professionally or personally disclosed to the other employees. Innuendo and rumor ran rampant. It was like having a mole running from desk to desk. Many things were said in confidence and many things got back to the boss, but not in an objective manner. This is the kind of rumor which adds fear to the steamy mix that something is going to blow. I soon left the company and started my own endeavor rather than to remain and figure out how it may or may not affect me long term.
For employees of Late Show, I'm sure this new disclosure opened up a can of worms. Just how did that person on Letterman get to appear on so many shows? How many other women on the show found a glass ceiling because they didn't like getting off the elevator on the boss's floor? Maybe I'm reading into the situation...perhaps he is like the governor of South Carolina and this young employee is his true soul mate. But Letterman hasn't said that and apparently there have been more than a few women. I'm sure there were whispers or suspicions along the way which were quickly concealed due to a man who is intensely private and with much to lose (including female viewers!). Who would want to blow the whistle on the boss? Especially since that boss is David Letterman. Um, hello!
David Letterman broke some cardinal rules in business. He has plenty of money and has many other ways to indulge his sideline promiscuity; so he shouldn't have put so many people in a bad place that work so hard for him, and his show, to make it a success. They believed in him and he let them down. As a boss and employer he was their role model. He was their leader.
With all the tough news we've had to face these past few years it was always nice to turn on the television and know David Letterman could summon out of us a few laughs you didn't know you had.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but now, for me, his wife, and many of his employees and countless viewers, the funny is gone.
Follow Todd Greene on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Todd_Greene