NBC didn't. The network refused to give up clips from Letterman's old Late Night gig. CBS wanted to use those clips to fete Letterman on a primetime special February 24 marking his 15th anniversary as a late night host.
NBC said they didn't want to help rival CBS during February sweeps--a key ratings period that determines local advertising rates for affiliate stations. An NBC spokeswoman also said CBS' request was a publicity stunt and was never expected to be granted.
It looks like Letterman got the last laugh--literally. Never one to pass up an opportunity to slam his former employers--whom he calls "weasels"--Dave spent a good chunk of his own 15th anniversary show Monday night cracking wise at NBC's expense.
"We asked the folks at NBC if we could use videotape from the old show, and frankly, they were not very nice about it at all," he said in his opening monologue. "They were belligerent, they were bellicose, they were snotty, they were downright rude. It was like I was still working there."
Some other digs:Letterman, quipping that his show was part of NBC's "Can't See TV," was joined via videotape at one point by "Must See TV" centerpiece Jerry Seinfeld.
Seinfeld: Wow! 15 years! Dave, I'm here at NBC just reminiscing about some of the classic stuff you used to do on Late Night, which I'm told you no longer have access to. I was just watching Chris Elliott as "The Fugitive Guy." He's tumbling down the...Can I even describe this?
NBC weasel: No.
Seinfeld: Too bad. It's great stuff and it would really work well on your show tonight...Hey, can I use some of this stuff?
NBC weasel: Yes, absolutely.
While discussing career highlights, every time Letterman hearkened back to his NBC days, the camera would show a black screen reading "Footage Owned by NBC."
The controversy did improve Late Show ratings, according to early Nielsen estimates. The show attracted 15 percent of the available audience, up 11 percent from its Monday average. NBC's Tonight Show--on location in Las Vegas--pulled in 16 percent of the audience.