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Station Owner Pulls Letterman Show

July 15, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ The way the folks at David Letterman’s ``Late Show″ see it, Nick Evans has pulled a stupid human trick that’s costing them air time.

Letterman’s late-night talk show was taken off the air this week in seven Southern and Midwestern cities because of a dispute over tickets.

The reason? Evans, the stations’ owner, had trouble getting tickets for people who wanted to see a show taping in New York. So viewers at his CBS stations were treated to infomercials, ``Judge Judy″ and a diet of retread sitcoms in Letterman’s time slot.

``I think this is the type of fellow that is used to getting the best table at a restaurant at a moment’s notice while the rest of us have to wait in line,″ said Rob Burnett, executive producer of the ``Late Show.″

Evans, owner of Spartan Communications in Spartanburg, S.C., concedes a ticket dispute was behind his decision. He also said he’s unhappy with the show’s low ratings and wanted to test alternative programs.

``I don’t think it harms viewers,″ he said Tuesday. ``It may give them another choice.″

Letterman will be off the air all week on stations based in Spartanburg; Mason City, Iowa; Wichita, Kan.; and Mobile, Ala., a Spartan Communications spokesman said. Stations in Florence, S.C.; Columbus, Ga.; and Toccoa, Ga. pulled the show for two days and will reinstate Letterman tonight.

Burnett said the station owner was annoyed because his lawyer had trouble getting into a taping of the Letterman show. Evans said it was his advertisers and some viewers, not his lawyer.

Twenty-five seats in the 461-seat Ed Sullivan Theater are generally set aside at each taping for VIPs, Burnett said. But in the summer, when the average 20,000 ticket requests a week mushrooms because of vacations, Letterman eliminated the special treatment.

``Our tickets are going to go to our fans and we’re not going to be bullied into changing that,″ Burnett said. ``If he takes the show off the air, he takes the show off the air. He’ll have to explain that to people.″

Evans said, however, that his friends eventually got the tickets they wanted. A show official explained that the people were initially turned away, but that seats were found when it became clear how far the people had traveled to see it.

Evans said he hopes that Letterman’s employees learn from this episode to treat advertisers and viewers better.

If some of the substitute shows get better ratings this week, Letterman could be off the air permanently on some of the stations he owns, Evans said. ``Late Show″ has generally lagged behind Jay Leno’s ``Tonight Show″ and ABC’s ``Nightline″ in the national ratings.

A ``Late Show″ spokeswoman noted that Letterman was No. 1 in the Florence, S.C., market and No. 2 in Spartanburg and Wichita.

CBS said in a statement that it was sorry that ``a valued affiliate group has chosen to take this action. As a network, you never want to see the loyal fans of a popular program disappointed.″

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