It isn't very pretty to think of nights without Dave

MIKE LITTWIN

February 24, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

I have terrible news. A new Dark Age may soon envelop Baltimore: the Days without Dave.

As you must know, David Letterman is moving his show from NBC to CBS and from 12:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. This should be cause for great joy, except to the odd insomniac. Now you can be hip before midnight.

But maybe not in Baltimore, which some already consider hipness-challenged.

As it stands today (and in the wacky world of TV, nothing stands still; otherwise we'd still have "My Mother the Car" on the air), when virtually all of America is celebrating sometime in August the glad news of Dave's return, some of us will be in mourning.

They're saying Dave won't be on at 11:30 here.

He won't be on at 12:30 here.

He won't be on at all. You read that right. No Dave whatsoever. Not even Paul. Imagine "Late Night" as a test pattern, and you'll get the idea.

Here's why: According to the folks at Channel 11, known to you either as WBAL or the No Dave Guys, they're sticking with Arsenio Hall at 11:30, and CBS won't let them have Dave unless his late-night talk show begins no later than midnight. Since Arsenio (or, as one critic wisely calls him, Arsmoochio) airs until 12:30, that leaves CBS and WBAL at an impasse and us Dave-less.

Confused? Me, too. I'm confused, steamed, miffed, you name it.

No Dave? Then what was the point? Every two-bit, hick town from Bangor to Tahlequah is going to have Letterman on at 11:30, and we may not have him at all. (Also, Washington may not. Maybe we should call the Washington-Baltimore % 5/8 metropolitan area the No Dave Zone. Is this a Clinton-Arsenio conspiracy?)

WBAL doesn't have Top 10 reasons not to show Dave. It has a Top One, called ratings (read: money). Ratings? What about art? What about stupid pet tricks?

"This is an exceptional market for Arsenio Hall," says Emerson Coleman, WBAL program director. "It's difficult for us to remove a show that's going blockbusters. There are certain demographics that advertisers look for, and they're the ones that Arsenio is delivering for us.

"I'm sure the Letterman show, with all the publicity around the move, would do very well, too, but we're sticking with Arsenio for now."

That could very well change in December when WBAL's current contract with Arsenio ends. It might even change sooner if CBS, which wants Dave in all the major markets as soon as possible, sweetens the pot sufficiently. This may be just so much posturing before the inevitable compromise. Come on, this is Dave.

Letterman has a serious message to deliver: You can have a lot of bad hair days, wear sneakers on TV and still make $14 mil a year. He's a man who makes it OK to be cynical. We need that. For Letterman, the world is an inside joke, and we get to do the laughing.

Look at the competition. I tuned in Jay Leno the other night and he had Joan Emery on. I thought I was having flashbacks. What next -- Art Fern and the Tea-Time Movie? Leno's got the job for less than a year and he's already older than Carson ever was. This must be Johnny's curse.

Whoopi? Be serious. Jerry Springer? One question: Who is Jerry Springer? I won't even mention the Rush-man.

I will mention Arsenio, who makes the word saccharine seem inadequate. You've seen him in the interview mode. It isn't so much a conversation as it is a clothed assignation.

Arsenio: I love you.

Guest: I love you, Arsenio.

Audience: Woof, woof, woof, woof.

Arsenio: Kiss, kiss, kiss, kisssssss.

Guest: Kiss, kiss.

Audience: Woof, woof, woof, woof.

Arsenio: Your new movie/song/book/ is the best ever.

Guest: Well, I couldn't have done it without the support of people like you.

Audience: Woof, etc.

Sorry, I didn't mean to put you on sugar overload, but as a reporter, I have to tell the truth. The truth is: Dave leaves NBC in late June, and then what? You can't stay up late. You can't tape him on the VCR. And maybe he's not even coming back. If Comcast is going to charge us $25 for that converter to get Home Team Sports, can't they throw in Dave?

Well, I don't think it will come to that. WBAL and CBS will probably work things out. If not, I've heard CBS may consider moving the Letterman show to independent stations in towns where affiliates prove stubborn. That could happen here. Something must happen here.

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