You can’t be victimized by criminals, explained David Letterman on the Late Show Monday night. You have to push back.
Outside the fortified walls of the Ed Sullivan Theater, a full moon hung in the sky. Mr. Letterman must have been tired. For the past several weeks, not only had he been pushing back, he’d been putting his back into it, straining against an apparent outbreak of villainy. Along the way, he had helped concoct a secret sting operation against an alleged blackmailer. He had publicly confessed to having sexual relationships with several of his employees at The Late Show. He had apologized for indulging his own animal impulses, and had repeatedly shown a video clip of a monkey sneezing.
“It’s fall here in New York City,” said Mr. Letterman. “I spent the whole weekend, raking my hate mail.”
It was time to perform an earnest apology. “My wife, Regina, she has been horribly hurt by my behavior,” he said. “When something happens like that, if you hurt a person, and it’s your responsibility, you try and fix it.”
The audience applauded.
Life was cyclical, Mr. Letterman had learned. Decades earlier, he had moved to Los Angeles with his first wife, Michelle, to try and make it in comedy. His career took off, and his marriage fell apart. As it turned out, comedy clubs put Mr. Letterman in too close proximity with too many beach girls from San Diego State.
“It was embarrassing and superficial,” Mr. Letterman later said of his behavior, according to The Late Shift, by Bill Carter. “It was just me being a dork: Hey, young girls!”
And, now, here we were again. This time around, just to spice things up, life, that bitch, had given things a new twist—namely, the ominous arrival of a man named Joe Halderman with a big ego, a quick temper and a graying goatee, who came armed with photographs, emails and (in a retro plot twist Jane Austen would approve of) diary entries allegedly detailing Mr. Letterman’s furtive indulgences. “The whole thing is surreal,” said Mr. Letterman on the Late Show. “Normally when I’m shaken down for money, it’s my relatives.”
HOW HAD MR. Letterman, our late-night daddy, gotten entangled with this bozo?
Men often meet each other through their hobbies. Play street hockey long enough, and eventually you’ll meet every would-be puck-head on the Lower East Side. David Letterman and Joe Halderman shared many things. They both rose from obscurity to the top of their fields. They both collected paychecks from CBS. They both spent weekends gorging on the fruits of Connecticut. But most importantly, they both shared a pastime—namely, the periodic bedding down of co-workers, colleagues and subordinates.
‘Network news divisions have a high tolerance for assholes,’ said one source. ‘They can be incredibly useful. But also creepy. And everyone knows exactly who they are.’
Mr. Halderman’s first wife was a coworker. According to sources at CBS, so was his second. He was known among current and former colleagues at CBS as a relentless flirt. “Ironically, given his blackmail threat to Letterman,” the Daily Beast recently reported, “Halderman carried on extramarital romances both in the office and on the road, colleagues say, and didn’t do much to hide them.”
Mr. Letterman, for his part, was no stranger to conspicuous interoffice affairs. For roughly a decade, ending in the 80s, Mr. Letterman dated Merrill Markoe, who was then head writer on his show. Earlier this year, Mr. Letterman married his longtime partner, Regina Lasko, a former staff member. On Friday afternoon, following Mr. Letterman’s initial revelations, Ms. Markoe wrote on her blog that “this is a very emotional moment for me because Dave promised me many times that I was the only woman he would ever cheat on.” Later, she responded to comments from her readers with a toast to them: “May none of you ever wake up one morning to find your name and photo included in a montage full of interns and personal assistants.”
There are currently no female writers on staff at The Late Show. But almost overnight, any woman who had ever worked for Mr. Letterman was cast into the game of did she or didn’t she. On Friday morning, one of Mr. Letterman’s former assistants promptly jumped on Facebook and updated her status: Jennifer “swears she only fetched coffee.”
The Late Show and 48 Hours Mystery, where Mr. Halderman worked as a producer, occupy separate and distinct worlds within CBS. What they have had in common over the years is a steady trickle of young, fresh bodies, interns and pages, who occasionally pass between the two TV shows, looking for a good place to start a career. Eventually, Mr. Letterman and Mr. Halderman’s devotion to water-cooler skirt-chasing led them to the same woman.
Mr. Letterman discovered Stephanie Birkitt first. He plucked her out of the post-collegiate hordes and put her on TV (a nice perk, which, in addition to the modicum of fame, comes with a paycheck for each appearance). An affair blossomed.