Barry Sand, the only producer that "Late Night with David Letterman" has had in its five years on the air, quit the NBC show Friday and will now be producing Fox Broadcasting's Joan Rivers-less "The Late Show," The Times has learned.
Fox Broadcasting President Jamie Kellner said Sunday that Sand, a former comedy writer and producer of "SCTV Network," will have a free hand in formulating the "new direction" that "The Late Show" would be taking.
"We're very interested in being different at Fox--not being beholden to the networks for anything--and we're glad we found someone to produce 'The Late Show' that shares that feeling," Kellner said. He added that negotiations with Sand had been going on privately for "about six months." No details of Sand's contract concerning salary or length were forthcoming, although Kellner did say the deal with Sand was "long-term in nature."
On Sunday, Sand said he regarded the "Late Show" opportunity as a "tabula rasa," similar to his situation with Letterman in 1982.
"It's a situation where everything from before is being scrapped and we're going to do something that people are telling us we're crazy to try," Sand said Sunday from New York. "But the Letterman show--which everyone told us we were crazy to try five years ago--is successful enough now that it can stand on its own. I myself had no intention of resting on my laurels. I just needed something new, something dangerous."
NBC spokesmen confirmed that Sand--who has also produced talk shows hosted by Mike Douglas and David Frost--left the show after Friday's taping session but were not able to say who would replace Sand as Letterman's producer. That announcement will take place later in the week.
Both Sand and Kellner were predictably reluctant to presage what kind of show "The Late Show"--which has produced consistently bad Nielsens ratings--would become under the new regime, but Sand offered a hint.
"The approach is not going to be a clone--not Letterman, Carson or anyone else. The only way I've been able to describe what I have in mind is . . . buttermilk , as is something you may not like at first but which you grow to love, depend on, as time goes by."
Kellner and Sand agreed that the latter will be free to do whatever he sees fit to get the show going.
Since it was acquired by Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch in mid-1986, Fox has been attempting to forge a new network to compete with the long-established NBC, ABC and CBS. It launched the "fourth network" in October with the introduction of "The Late Show" at 11:30 p.m., opposite Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," for which Rivers had been the frequent guest host.
After a promising, well-publicized start, the new talk show quickly slipped to the ratings basement. Fox fired Rivers in October, and has not yet announced a permanent replacement host.
"The Late Show" continues to be Fox's only program running every week night.