By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Oct 02, 2009 at 11:00 AM

It was one of those moments that can only be conveyed on television, as David Letterman revealed on his Thursday night show that he had been the target of a blackmail plot over his sexual relationships with female members of his staff.

Reading Letterman's words offer the information about it, but not the emotional impact of listening to him jokingly describe both the plot and his own behavior. It came after a monologue when Letterman again tweaked South Carolina's adulterous governor, Mark Sanford, for "hiking the Appalachian trail."

Letterman said that the alleged blackmailer -- identified by the New York Daily News as Robert Halderman, an Emmy-winning producer at CBS' "48 Hours" -- said he was planning to write a screenplay revealing the "creepy things" done by the late-night talker.

"The creepy stuff was that I have had sex with women who work for me on this show," Letterman said.

There was the usual Letterman smirking, and the laughter from an audience that seemed to move slowly from thinking it was all a comedy bit to understanding that this was a serious matter. The studio audience did gasp when he said he was asked by the extortionist to pay $2 million.

Expect plenty of talk about what this will do to Letterman's ratings.

This mess exploded just as Nielsen Media Research numbers came out this week showing Letterman's "Late Show" scored well over NBC's "Tonight Show" last week, technically the first week of the 2009-'10 season, averaging more than 5 million viewers. Most importantly, Letterman beat Conan O'Brien among viewers 18-49 and 25-54, and the two were tied among viewers 18-34.

NBC has been expecting O'Brien's "Tonight Show" to win over the 62-year-old Letterman among younger viewers.

Unless one or more of Letterman's female staff members (and we don't know how many of them are involved) decide to sue him over the affairs, don't expect much impact on the show.

Remember the last time Letterman made headlines?

It was a joke he told in June about Sarah Palin and her 18-year-old daughter, Bristol. It led to misunderstanding and an eventual on-air apology. It also led to talk that it would hurt his ratings.

But that kind of talk generally comes from folks who wouldn't watch Letterman in the first place.

ON TV: TLC has suspended production on "Kate Plus Eight," as the show is now known, while it deals with Jon Gosselin's claim that the cable channel could no longer film the children at the family home he no longer lives in. 

  • Ryan Reynolds and Lady Gaga headline this weekend's "Saturday Night Live" at 10:30 p.m. Saturday on Channel 4. But all eyes will be on Jenny Slate, the new cast member who dropped an f-bomb on the season opener.
  • NBC was planning for a 13-episode sci-fi thriller called "Day One" to start airing after next year's Winter Olympics. But the network has cut it back to a four-hour miniseries.
  • Who says soaps are dead? James Franco has signed on for a couple months on ABC's "General Hospital."
  • The fall network TV lineup continues to roll out, with CBS' medical drama "Three Rivers" launching at 8 p.m. Sunday on Channel 58.

SOMETHING BIG ABOUT NOTHING: The big TV event of this weekend is the return of the old "Seinfeld" crew to prime time along with Larry David on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" at 8 p.m. Sunday.

The five-episode "Seinfeld" plot features the hapless Larry trying to reassemble the old cast in an attempt to win back his ex-wife.

Most interesting to see will be the performance from Michael Richards, who hasn't been very public since he was captured on cellphone video in a 2006 tirade using racial epithets.

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.