Costas has a life, so he says no to Letterman and CBS

December 20, 1993|By Eric Mink | Eric Mink,New York Daily News

In the end, quality-of-life considerations proved stronger than both money and the not-quite-irresistible temptation of a professional alliance with David Letterman and CBS.

Bob Costas has agreed to an unusual multi-year contract with NBC -- his fifth since 1980 -- that links him to the network's sports, news and entertainment divisions as follows:

* Play-by-play announcer for the World Series, playoffs and several regular-season baseball games.

* Prime-time host/anchor of the 1996 Olympics.

* Host of NBA coverage, with emphasis on the post-season championships.

* Contributing correspondent for sports and pop culture issues to the "Now" prime-time news magazine.

* Host of a few prime-time entertainment specials.

Since his widely praised performance as host of Olympics coverage from Barcelona in 1992, Mr. Costas, 41, has fielded a variety of offers from networks, cable programmers and syndicators.

Easily the most substantive was a recent offer to host a late-night show that would follow Mr. Letterman's.

"Even though NBC got baseball and the Olympics," Mr. Costas says, "even though I wanted to cut back my professional obligations and spend more time with my family, even though I wanted to maintain my home in St. Louis, the offer was so impressive and the people involved so impressive -- from Letterman to CBS President Howard Stringer -- that I had to seriously consider it."

Published speculation pegged the deal at some $4 million a year for a one-hour show that would air five nights a week. Mr. Letterman's company would own and produce it, and Mr. Letterman would be an active consultant.

Mr. Costas will not comment on the dollar figure but says that money was not the primary appeal. "My regard for David Letterman, personally and professionally, could not be higher," Mr. Costas says, "and I was genuinely honored that he wanted to work with me."

At another time in his life, it might have happened. "The only way to do that show is to structure your life around it, not vice versa. I could have done that if I were single and living in Manhattan, or married without children or married with grown children.

"But our kids are 4 and 7, and we have a great life in St. Louis. I really was unable in good conscience to give 10 to 12 hours a day to a show here in New York, even though CBS was willing to do anything to make things easier."

Indeed, CBS even offered a private jet to simplify the weekly trips to and from St. Louis.

"You have to respect his family considerations," says Mr. Letterman's executive producer, Robert Morton, "but it's disappointing. You know, there's no list here. We have a few names we were considering, but Costas was always the top choice."

NBC's package offered Mr. Costas more than personal advantages. Company President Bob Wright and the top executives of the company's divisions, Mr. Costas says, "all stepped up and made this happen by crafting a creative and workable combination of assignments for me."

Mr. Costas acknowledges some rocky times at NBC last year. "We got off track for a while, and I felt I didn't have enough input or real control over my own work," he says.

Those difficulties have been overcome. "With the working relationships I have here, especially with [sports President] Dick Ebersol, I'm confident that I'll have all the support I need to do the best work I'm capable of."

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