NBC expected to let Letterman leave for CBS

January 14, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Los Angeles -- NBC is expected to announce today that it will not match a CBS offer and will let talk show host David Letterman leave after 11 years with the network.

Sources at NBC said this week that the network was going to stick with Jay Leno, and not match the contract CBS offered Letterman to do his talk show on their network at 11:30 weeknights.

Today's New York Times reports that the contract, previously said to be for $28 million over two years, is instead about $42 million in salary and incentives over three years. The Times attributed the higher figure to a senior network executive.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday, quoting unnamed sources, that the network had decided to let Letterman go.

Letterman must continue to host "Late Night" until June 25. A senior CBS official, according to the New York Times, said he would like to see Letterman's new show on the air prior to the fall season.

Letterman, NBC and Leno declined to comment.

NBC has until tomorrow to match the CBS offer. The decision is expected to be announced today when Warren Littlefield, NBC Entertainment president, meets with TV critics here.

The economics of the situation make it almost impossible for NBC to keep Letterman.

Executives at both networks agreed that NBC had been unable to match CBS's offer, according to the New York Times. NBC pays Letterman $7 million a year to host "Late Night With David Letterman." To keep him, they would have to match CBS's offer. NBC would also have to give Letterman the 11:30 time slot Leno now fills.

If they do that, there's the matter of Leno. The network is reportedly paying Leno $3 million a year as host of the "Tonight Show." But, according to the terms of his contract, they would have to pay Leno about $10 million in penalty fees if they bumped him out of the 11:30 time slot.

NBC is expected to move fast in replacing Letterman and will offer Letterman's late-night spot to Dana Carvey, who recently signed a five-year contract with the network.

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