In last night's monologue, David Letterman makes a little joke about avoiding award ceremonies for fear of being nabbed for sexual misconduct (as Roman Polanski was in Switzerland) and then gives his audience a no-laughs account of being blackmailed over having affairs with women who work on his show.
We are deep into media-outdoes-real-life here, in the terrain of the 1976 "Network" movie that posited a TV anchorman who goes raving mad, is exploited for ratings and then killed on-air when they drop.
Letterman will no doubt overcome his extortion embarrassment as easily as he did the flap over a tasteless A-Rod/Sarah Palin daughter joke last summer as he continues on his new $90 million contract, while the ex-Alaska governor matches his income, thanks to Rupert Murdoch's underwriting of her sure-fire best-selling memoir next month and career as a commentator for Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.
Unless Palin's political career miraculously revives, all this might be filed as entertainment news, if it were not for the concurrent rise of Glenn Beck as a rival to Rush Limbaugh for the mad-as-hell-not-going-to-take-it-anymore crowd.
A lifelong radio-TV mouth with a history of alcoholism and drug abuse, Beck now rates a Time cover and a section of his own on the White House blog to correct the lies and distortions he is spewing over Murdoch's media.
In the New York Times, under the heading, "The Wizard of Beck," conservative columnist David Brooks tells "a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness. It is the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche--even in the Republican Party. It is a story as old as 'The Wizard of Oz,' of grand illusions and small men behind the curtain."
Brooks is right, of course, but the conflation of show biz and real life continues as surely it was starting to do decades ago when I ran into my high-school classmate Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote "Network," in a restaurant on his way to meet William Paley, the founding father of CBS and the archetype of TV executives lampooned in his movie.
"I must admit," Paddy confessed, "I'm a little nervous about meeting him."
After he left, the agent with me said, "He should be. They showed 'Network' on CBS last week, and it got lousy ratings."