A laid-back Dave says he's ready for a new season TURNED ON IN LA. -- Fall Preview

July 21, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Los Angeles -- "Maybe I'm just dumb," David Letterman says, "but I don't have anxieties about all this stuff . . . all this 'late-night wars' stuff you're asking me about."

Letterman certainly looked relaxed holding the stage for more than an hour here Monday, treating the members of the press as he would members of a studio audience who were asking him silly questions.

"Dave, do you think your $42 million salary will come between you and your audience . . . that they won't think you're one of them any more?" Letterman is asked.

"Jeez, you know, who knows? I hope not. I'm certainly not worth that kind of dough," he says with what seems to be genuine sincerity.

And then that little half-smile, half-snarl passes across his face and Letterman says, "If that happens, though, I'll just, you know, buy a new audience. To hell with them."

"Dave, Maury Povich told me that you really do have the hots for his wife, Connie Chung," another questioner asks. "He was serious. What's your reaction to that?"

"I think the more important question is," Letterman says, pausing to think through his words, "does Maury Povich have the hots for his wife?"

Letterman is stand-up-comedian brilliant in such exchanges.

But there are moments when he seems serious by Letterman standards. When he's asked about how it felt to be passed over for the "Tonight Show" job, Letterman responds without the sarcasm usually reserved for his former employers at NBC.

"I always wanted to be considered a candidate for the job," he says. "But that never happened. So, obviously, that was disappointing to me.

"Now, as I guess time does for you, it kind of leads me to believe that things worked out for the better. And, again, through all of this, I've suffered no rancor. I've had a little remorse. But certainly no acrimony."

Most of the session, though, is spent with Letterman responding to questions about all the things he says he's not worried about as the countdown starts to Aug. 30 and the premiere of "The Late Show With David Letterman" on CBS.

He says he's not worried about NBC's threats to sue him and CBS if he uses such staples as "Stupid Pet Tricks," which NBC claims is its "intellectual property."

"Look, I'm not worried. One of two things will happen," Letterman says. "We'll just do all of the stuff that we want to do, and that will be fine. Or, we'll do all the stuff we want to do, and they'll sue us. And that will be fine. By the way, if that comes to trial, get a seat down front."

Letterman says he's not even worried about CBS' inability to get more than two-thirds of its 205 affiliates to carry his show live -- a problem so serious that he and CBS say there's no way they can beat Jay Leno and the "Tonight Show" in ratings for at least a year.

"As far as the competition, Jay Leno's had a year and he's very established," Letterman says.

"They have 100 percent network clearance. I don't even know what we have. And, so, they have a huge advantage.

Letterman says CBS viewers will see virtually the same show they saw on NBC.

One big difference is that the same guy has lost about 30 pounds in the past couple of months and looks rail-thin. "I'm on a diet," he says, warming to the subject. "This is the one thing I like to talk about.

"If you look at a videotape of me from a year ago, I look like a grown-up Jerry Mathers. So, I said, 'That's it.' And I never in my life realized how hard it is to lose weight.

"All I can tell you is that I'm hungry all the time," he says, adding that last year he weighed 205 pounds and that he wants to get down to the 155 pounds or so he weighed in college.

He starts to say something else about the diet when he's interrupted by yet another question about the late-night wars.

"Look, I don't have any adversarial feelings," he says. "And the most pressure I can ever feel is just trying to do the best show I can. . . . But I suppose if you're going to label it, that's better than calling it -- what? -- the late-night lunch?"

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