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Letterman agrees his "Late Show' will hang around longer

Ending months of rumors that David Letterman might soon retire from late-night television, CBS announced Sunday that it has extended the Late Show host's contract through the 2001-02 season.

Moving the program to Los Angeles remains a possibility, the network said.

CBS, whose fall schedule resonates with names and faces from the past _ from Bill Cosby to Ted Danson _ also announced TV series return engagements for Larry Hagman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber in the first day of its annual presentation to television critics.

"Dave put CBS on the map in late night, and because of the many Emmy nominations of The Late Shift, we decided to renew the show for three years," joked CBS Entertainment president Leslie Moonves, referring to the HBO insider movie that portrayed Letterman as a red-headed, ball-throwing weirdo and Jay Leno with clownlike facial features.

Letterman did not appear before critics but said in a statement, "I'd like to continue at CBS for as long as it takes to make Leslie Stahl my wife."

Neither he nor Moonves talked specifically about the potential move to California, which Letterman has indicated might help land bigger stars as guests and close the ratings gap with The Tonight Show.

In other announcements, Hagman, after appearing this fall on CBS in the reunion movie Dallas: J .R. Returns, will star as a New Orleans judge and patriarch in the midseason drama Orleans.

Tomlin will join the cast of Murphy Brown as FYI's new producer, an intellectual foil known as "the Fixer."

Harmon, a former St. Elsewhere star, joins the trimmed-down cast of Chicago Hope as an orthopedic surgeon coaxed out of retirement. His real-life wife, Dawber, will star in a midseason comedy, Life . . . and Stuff.

EXPLETIVE DELETED: What do Angela Lansbury and NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street have in common? Both know what it is like to be snubbed by Emmy voters.

Saturday night, they got revenge when they accepted awards from the Television Critics Association awards.

Tom Fontana, a Homicide producer, cursed the Emmy nominators, who again this year overlooked the gritty NBC detective series in the best drama category. TCA named Homicide best drama and best program in the 12th annual awards ceremony.

Lansbury, whose Murder, She Wrote was pushed off the CBS lineup in May, took more playful jabs in accepting her award for lifetime achievement while seconding Fontana's unprintable comments.

Also honored by the TV critics were Frasier (best comedy, third year in a row); PBS' Frontline (best news program, second year in a row); PBS'Wishbone (best children's program); ESPN's Sportscenter (best sports program); and A&E's Pride and Prejudice (best special).