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David Letterman apologizes to comedy writer for sexual favouritism during ‘Late Night’ days

David Letterman speaks onstage during the Michael J. Fox Foundation'd 'A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's Gala,' at The Waldorf=Astoria on Nov. 14, 2015 in New York City.
David Letterman speaks onstage during the Michael J. Fox Foundation'd 'A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson's Gala,' at The Waldorf=Astoria on Nov. 14, 2015 in New York City. Mike Coppola/MJF2015/Getty Images

Ten years ago, American TV icon David Letterman was accused of sexist behaviour and sexual favouritism by former Late Night writer Nell Scovell.

The accusations came in an article called Letterman and Me, where she called out her former boss for not hiring enough female writers, and also for conducting inappropriate sexual relationships with a number of female staffers.

At the time, Scovell, 58, was the only woman on the writing team — the second ever to work on Late Night with David Letterman — and she left after only five months of working on the production, just before the host migrated over to CBS in 1993.

On Wednesday, Vanity Fair published a followup from Scovell, which detailed the “story of a rich white male celebrity who abused his power and then apologized for it.”

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According to Scovell, Letterman, 72, has since apologized for his treatment of women while serving as the Late Night main man.

“I’m sorry I was that way,” he said to the comedian.

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After almost a decade of avoiding it, Letterman reportedly read Letterman and Me after agreeing to meet Scovell for an interview to discuss it — which is where he apologized to her earlier this month.

The in-depth interview explores Letterman’s “disturbing” behaviour and actions in the ’90s.

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“The other night, I read the piece that you wrote 10 years ago,” he told Scovell. “And I thought, ‘Holy s–t, this is so disturbing,’ and sadly, [that was] a perspective that I did not have,” he claimed.
Nell Scovell during the Choose Creativity Awards at Edison Ballroom on June 3, 2019 in New York City.
Nell Scovell during the Choose Creativity Awards at Edison Ballroom on June 3, 2019 in New York City. Gonzalo Marroquin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

“I’m sorry I was that way and I was happy to have read the piece because it wasn’t angering. I felt horrible because who wants to be the guy that makes people unhappy to work where they’re working?

“I don’t want to be that guy. I’m not that guy now, I was that guy then.”

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While including all the details of their recent conversation, Scovell’s article concisely summarizes Letterman and Me, including the not-so-glamorous moments from her time working on Late Night, what it was like working with a white male-dominated team, and the sexual favouritism that came along with that.

She rehashed details of the “hostile” and “sexually charged atmosphere,” as well as her own perspective on Letterman’s highly publicized sex scandal — the one that eventually resulted in her quitting the show.

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After somebody allegedly attempted to blackmail him for US$2 million, Letterman was prompted to confess to having sex with many of his female employees.

On Oct. 1, 2009, during an on-air Late Show broadcast, he openly admitted to doing “terrible” and “creepy stuff” with several former female staffers.

Though Scovell never explicitly said whether she was involved in the sexual affairs, she suggested that she was not, adding that she believed the women who were had benefited professionally by doing so.

She said it made her feel demeaned, and expressed regret for not saying anything to Letterman about her feelings at the time.

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When asked by Scovell about the sex scandal, Letterman said: “It’s not a happy memory. But it’s a memory that changed my life.”

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He said he avoided reading Letterman and Me out of a desire to focus on his marriage, which had begun earlier that year.

Despite admitting to the affairs, Letterman married his longtime partner Regina Lasko on March 19, 2009. The two have been together since 1986.

“I didn’t want to lose my family and I worked and worked and worked until I learned the obvious lessons.

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“I shouldn’t have had to learn them, because they were obvious,” added Letterman. “I knew what I was doing was not good.”

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On the history of his relationships with and behaviour around women, Lettermen blamed it on a lack of guidance in his youth.

“I never had anyone in my life sit down and talk to me—not in school, not at home, not in church—about how a man of age behaves with a woman of age,” he said. “It just didn’t happen. You picked it up from your buddies.”

In this Tuesday, April 9, 2013 photo released by CBS Entertainment, actress Lindsay Lohan talks to David Letterman about her upcoming trip to rehab.
In this Tuesday, April 9, 2013 photo released by CBS Entertainment, actress Lindsay Lohan talks to David Letterman about her upcoming trip to rehab. AP Photo/CBS Entertainment, Jeffrey R. Staab

Though Scovell seemed forgiving in the article, she admitted that she was still angry.

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“Dave still carries around his guilt and I still carry around my anger,” she wrote. “Despite this, we can have a productive and even pleasant talk.”

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In her closing words, Scovell acknowledged Letterman’s efforts.

“Dave’s willingness to speak to me on the record is part of him making amends,” she wrote. “His acknowledgment of mistakes and regret go out to those who were wronged. They also go out to the enablers and defenders of his behavior. That’s equally important.”

Scovell’s new Vanity Fair piece can be read in full here.

adam.wallis@globalnews.ca