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David Letterman Turned Into A 'Bully' Over NBC Mess, Says PR Expert

With Conan O'Brien finally signing a $45 million deal to leave 'The Tonight Show', 'Fox News' contributor and the author of 'The Practice of Public Relations', Fraser Seitel, says David Letterman didn't do himself any favors by constantly taking shots at Leno.

"Letterman has been the big beneficiary of O'Brien's rocky start," explains Seitel. "Even after Dave's awkward confession of a post-romance extortion attempt, his ratings rocketed."

"When the O'Brien-Leno controversy began, Letterman handled it in proper bemused, yet detached, style. He poked fun at NBC which, having also unceremoniously ushered him out some years ago, was perfectly understandable."

"But then Dave's mood turned ugly. Apparently harboring a deep-seated resentment for the comedian who had beaten him in the ratings for so many years, Letterman lit into Leno as being, in effect, a sneaky, double-dealing, two-faced backstabber."

"And in so doing, Dave came off as a bully, eager to air lingering grudges. It was unseemly, even to those who have admired Letterman through thick and thin."

Seitel also takes a look at how Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno came out of the ordeal.

"Sure, Conan stuck it to his soon-to-be former employer at every turn. But ironically, O'Brien seemed to get more comfortable in the late night role as his days dwindled as 'Tonight Show' host. Despite his unbridled NBC venom, O'Brien handled himself throughout the skirmish with good humor and relative glee."

"He lobbied hard for his staff, which is always good. And he shared every wacky negotiating detail with his public, which is also positive. So Conan acquitted himself well, despite the shaky situation. And this fall, when he returns to a network near you, he will be no worse for the wear."

"Finally, say what you will about him but Jay Leno comes off as a gentleman."

"Despite the Letterman vitriol, the Conan barbs and the NBC kerfuffling, Leno steadfastly remained above the battle. He attacked no one. He dispassionately explained his own history with the network. And he praised O'Brien."

"In other words, Leno let the whole thing play out without tipping his hand or ruffling the peacock's feathers. And on March 1 he'll return, relatively unscathed, to the 'Tonight Show' perch. A month or so later, I suspect, Jay Leno will once again be the undisputed king of late night television."

But the biggest loser of it all? The PR expert saves that honor for Jeff Zucker -- and how can you not.

"A month ago, the president of NBC was the brightest star in network television, an upwardly mobile executive in whose judgment the peacock had unlimited faith," he explains. "What a difference a month makes."

"Today, with his network in tatters, Zucker’s name is now associated with the genius strokes of moving Leno and Conan out of ratings dominance in their timeslots, and generally wrecking Johnny Carson’s 'Tonight Show' legacy."

"After painstakingly honing his image at the network for two decades, the velocity of Zucker's descent has been breathtaking. Never again will he be regarded as NBC's 'fair-haired boy.'"

January 22, 2010 |

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