ABC wasn’t the only network that tried to steal David Letterman away from CBS. The New York Times reports that NBC tried last July to get Letterman to return to the network he left acrimoniously in 1993 after it gave the ”Tonight Show” host gig to Jay Leno instead of him. Not that Dave would have replaced Jay or even Conan; rather, NBC would have given him a nightly prime-time hour, from 8 to 9, every weeknight except must-see Thursday.
The move would have been a smart one for NBC in that it would have helped the network fill a difficult timeslot at a relatively low cost and removed Letterman as a Leno competitor. Plus, it probably would have meant a bigger salary for Letterman than he could earn in late-night.
While NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker didn’t comment to the Times, Letterman producer Rob Burnett told the paper, ”It was a very smart idea. Jeff doesn’t just think outside the box; with him you can’t even find the box.” Still, Burnett said, he didn’t believe Letterman would move back to NBC unless he got the ”Tonight Show,” perhaps kicking Leno to prime-time, but Zucker had no intention of ousting Leno, who regularly beats Letterman in late-night ratings. In any case, Burnett said, Letterman told him he had no serious intention to become a prime-time star. ”We chatted briefly about it,” he said. ”Dave had a good laugh over it.”