National

Extortion plot puts Letterman in tough spot, but ratings soar

NEW YORK — A CBS newsman who prosecutors said was desperate and deep in debt was charged Friday with trying to blackmail David Letterman for $2 million in a plot that forced the late night comic to acknowledge having sex with some of the women who work for him.

The bizarre case created a messy legal and professional problem for one of CBS's most valuable personalities. Commentators and bloggers quickly accused Letterman of hypocrisy because he has made a career of mocking politicians mercilessly for their sexual transgressions.

From a strictly business perspective, Letterman's revelations on Thursday's show were an immediate success: His overnight ratings were up 38 percent over the same night a week ago, the Nielsen Co. said.

Robert J. "Joe" Halderman, a producer for the true-crime show "48 Hours Mystery," pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan court as he was arraigned on one count of attempted first-degree grand larceny, punishable by five to 15 years in prison. Bail was set at $200,000.

Halderman's connection to Letterman was not immediately clear, but public records show that until August, he lived in Norwalk, Conn., with Stephanie Birkitt, a 34-year-old woman who works on the "Late Show" staff and used to work at "48 Hours Mystery."

Birkitt was an assistant to Letterman on the "Late Show" and frequently appeared on camera with the host in comedy bits. Last month, Birkitt moved to Manhattan's upper West Side. There was no answer Friday at a phone listed in her name.

It was also unclear how many women were involved in relationships with Letterman. All of the affairs took place before Letterman's marriage, said Tom Keaney, spokesman for Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants.

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