LOS ANGELES -- Johnny Carson and Dana Carvey got new long-term contracts. Barry Levinson got an order for six episodes of "Homicide," the TV drama based on Sun reporter David Simon's book. And David Letterman got a warning to sign or else.
Those were among the announcements made by NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield at a fall preview press conference here this weekend. Following the announcements, Littlefield spent most of the hourlong session trying to fight off hostile questions about "I Witness Video," a new "reality" show that features amateur video of beatings and murder. The show is on NBC's fall schedule.
Details of the new Carson contract were sketchy. "All we're saying is that it's a multi-year deal for Johnny to star in and develop original programming for NBC," Littlefield said. "What that means is that Johnny has not yet decided what he wants to do, but he wants to do it with NBC."
The deal for Carvey, whose impersonations include George Bush and Ross Perot, calls for him to remain on "Saturday Night Live" at least through the election in November. Meanwhile, the network will start developing a weekly series for him. Carvey appeared at the press conference as Perot and supplied its only light moments.
In announcing the six-episode order for "Homicide," Littlefield said the show will start filming in Baltimore in mid-September and that Levinson will direct the first episode.
Littlefield was asked about a dispute between Levinson and the producers of "Polish Hill," a new cop show on CBS. Levinson threatened to sue over what he said were portions of Simon's book used without permission in the CBS series. The producers of "Polish Hill" have agreed to change the contested passages, according to Littlefield, who said he is satisfied the issue has been resolved. He said "Homicide" might be used as a midseason replacement.
And for the first time, Littlefield talked about the possibility of late night life on NBC without Letterman whose contract negotiations drag on amid nightly attacks on NBC's corporate owner, General Electric.
"Dave's a very hard guy to read. We continue to talk. He has a contract through April, 1993. We'd love him to continue. . . . It is not our desire [to change], but if we have to, we will be prepared to."
The preparation, of course, includes signing Carvey, half -- Garth -- of the red-hot "Wayne's World" team. Carvey has reportedly been promised Letterman's slot if talks break down and Letterman takes his show elsewhere.