David Letterman's agents approached ABC two months ago about the talk-show host jumping from rival NBC but was rebuffed because his salary demand of $6-million a year was too high, a person familiar with the discussions said Friday. The talent company that represents Letterman, Rollins & Joffe, told ABC that when Letterman's contract expires next April, he might be available for $6-million per year, which is believed to be the same salary he is earning as host of Late Night With David Letterman, the source said.
However, ABC immediately rejected the salary requirements as unreasonably high.
Both Letterman and his agent, Jack Rollins, who is also the executive producer of Late Night, declined to comment. "He (Rollins) doesn't want to make any statement or talk about it," his assistant said.
According to industry speculation, the talk-show host was angered by NBC's announcement on Thursday that comedian Jay Leno would be installed as permanent host of the Tonight Show next May, although the selection of Leno was not unexpected.
It was unclear, however, whether Rollins and Letterman approached ABC in early spring because they believed even then that the Leno appointment was a foregone conclusion and wanted to explore other opportunities. It also is not unusual for agents to put out feelers to see what the market will bear.
ABC has long wanted to establish a successful show to follow Nightline at midnight, but the network hasn't been willing to pour huge amounts of money into the time period. Popular Los Angeles radio disc jockey Rick Dees reportedly earns $1-million a year for his work as host of Into the Night with Rick Dees on ABC.
The network is unhappy with the ratings performance of Into the Night, and a change is expected.
Until recently, CBS would have been far more receptive to acquiring Letterman than would ABC. About 18 months ago, the network was scrambling to replace Pat Sajak, whose talk show was a ratings disaster. It aggressively pursued Leno, offering him $6-million and other inducements to leave his job as substitute host of the Tonight show.
But Leno declined, and the network later decided to run entertainment programs in lieu of a talk show. CBS has said publicly it is happy with the ratings performances of the action-adventure series that run at 11:30 p.m.
Because Letterman's contract with NBC does not lapse for nearly another year, industry executives said that any immediate change in his employment status is unlikely.
Letterman's contract was also believed to have a "no compete" clause that would prohibit him from appearing on a rival network for one year after the NBC contract expires.
Burke out, Hooks in
By PHIL ROSENTHAL
Los Angeles Daily News
Variety on Friday reported Delta Burke is apparently out of CBS' Designing Women and Jan Hooks of Saturday Night Live is in. Negotiations reportedly were continuing in an attempt to keep Jean Smart in at least a small role on the Monday-night comedy, which will enter its sixth season this fall.
Billy Connolly plays Billy MacGregor in Head of the Class.
Ann Jillian will appear on Live - Regis & Kathie Lee. Muhammad Ali will be a guest on The Arsenio Hall Show.