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Letterman Signs On Through 2001; Tomlin Joins 'Murphy'

Television: CBS late-night host puts end to early retirement talk, and the comedic actress' deal includes her own show.


CBS has secured the services of David Letterman into the next millennium, signing the late-night host to a three-year contract extension carrying through the 2000-2001 television season.

Letterman is in the midst of a six-year contract that expires in 1998 and had talked about retiring when that deal ended. Terms weren't disclosed, but the host reportedly made $42 million under his initial three-year agreement.

Meeting with the Television Critics Assn. in Pasadena Sunday, CBS also announced that Lily Tomlin will join the cast of "Murphy Brown" in the coming season, playing the new executive producer of show-within-a-show "FYI."

Grant Shaud, whose character fulfilled that role, has left the series. CBS also has a deal with Tomlin to develop and star in a separate show when "Murphy Brown" completes its run, CBS Entertainment President Leslie Moonves said.

During a question-and-answer session, Moonves also defended the network's major commitments to Bill Cosby and Ted Danson on new series for the fall. "In success, those deals will make a lot of sense for us," he said, adding later, "Bill Cosby was not going to come cheap."

Despite a mixed track record for past stars in new programs, Moonves said such personalities can help launch series by cutting through the television clutter of cable and other alternatives.

Much of the session dealt with "Public Morals," a new comedy from Steven Bochco Productions about undercover cops. The show features risque language and themes and, like Bochco's "NYPD Blue," will carry a parental-discretion advisory. Some affiliates are reluctant to carry the program, and Moonves acknowledged that methods of toning down the content are under discussion.

CBS also confirmed that Mark Harmon and former "Roc" co-star Rocky Carroll will join the cast of "Chicago Hope." Mandy Patinkin and Ron Silver will appear as well in recurring roles.

Moonves opened by joking that CBS had offered the cast of NBC's "Friends" "$150,000 each not to show up" to work next season. The executive added that the threatened contract holdout was "normal operating procedure" and that he'd be surprised if the dispute wasn't resolved soon.

The organization presented its annual awards on Saturday, honoring NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" as program of the year and outstanding drama. NBC's "Frasier" made off with best comedy.

Other awards went to PBS' "Frontline" and "Wishbone" as the outstanding news and children's programs, respectively; A&E's "Pride & Prejudice" as the best special; and ESPN's "SportsCenter" as the top sports program. Angela Lansbury was presented a career-achievement award.

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