Bring us our Letterman, or we'll beat TV with stick

ROGER SIMON

July 23, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

There are certain things Baltimore doesn't have that other cities do.

Gridlock, smog and mayors currently under indictment are three of them.

But on Aug. 30, there will be a fourth item we don't have:

David Letterman.

If you live in the Baltimore area, you will not be able to watch David Letterman's new CBS show.

Channel 11, the CBS affiliate, will not run Letterman because it is running Arsenio Hall.

Independent Channels 45 and 54 have been offered Letterman, but neither has bought it.

Channel 20 in Washington will run it, but Channel 20 is not on all Baltimore-area cable systems, and many people can't get it over the air here without wrapping aluminum foil around their heads and squatting atop their TV sets.

So I called the general managers of Channels 11, 45 and 54 this week to ask each a simple question:

Why shouldn't you be chained to a post on the War Memorial Plaza and stoned to death?

The first man I called was Joe Koff, general manager of Channel 54. Last month, Sun TV critic David Zurawik quoted Koff as saying: "We're not sure we want to take Letterman. You know, 'In the Heat of the Night' does very well for us [in reruns at 11:30 p.m.]."

Excuse me? "In the Heat of the Night"? The spin-off of that 26-year-old movie? Reruns of this show is why we can't see Letterman?

But when I got Koff on the line, two things about him surprised me:

One, he was capable of human speech. And, two, he seemed pretty nice.

So I asked him if there was any chance whatsoever he might bring Letterman to Baltimore.

"I'm not ready to talk about it yet, but there has been some ongoing conversation with CBS," Koff said.

So it is possible?

"Yes, but I can't talk about it now," Koff said.

So then I called Channel 45, which is going to carry Chevy Chase's new talk show. But that doesn't mean it couldn't carry Letterman, too.

It would not be like comic overload because the last time Chevy Chase was actually funny was when he appeared on "Saturday Night Live" with an arrow stuck through his head.

No, wait. That was Steve Martin.

So when was the last time Chevy Chase was actually funny? I guess it doesn't matter.

Steven Marks, the general manager of 45, also seemed like a pleasant fellow.

"We have been approached by CBS, and we are in the process of making a decision," he said. "There is a chance [we might run Letterman], but I really don't know yet."

So that left Phil Stolz, general manager of Channel 11. Stolz has the greatest responsibility to run Letterman because Channel 11 is a CBS station and Letterman is a CBS show.

L "But we have a contract to run Arsenio," Stolz said amiably.

Contracts are made to be broken, however, and if Stolz has to do a little prison time in order to bring us Letterman, so be it.

I have gone over what these men have told me, but I think there is a lot they are not telling me.

So here are my Top 10 Reasons Why These Three Guys Won't Bring David Letterman to Baltimore:

10. Think Stupid Pet Tricks are done by tiny people dressed up like dogs and birds.

9. Believe people with gap teeth should not be allowed on television.

8. Don't understand Dave's monologue. Is it supposed to be funny or what?

7. Afraid that if they air a show with a Canadian band leader, the House Un-American Activities Committee will blacklist them.

6. Actually like Cher.

5. Worry that if you have Letterman and Arsenio back-to-back, people will get them mixed up.

4. Don't see why Connie Chung didn't get the job.

3. Think television hasn't been worth watching since "Hello, Larry" went off the air.

2. Are weasels.

1. Never stay up past 9 p.m. anyway.

I am hoping one of these three men does the right thing and brings us Dave.

Because if they don't, something terrible might happen:

People in Baltimore might actually be forced to read.

And then where will television stations be?

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