While Burnett acknowledged that ''everyone's looking to relieve stress,'' he downplayed the behind-the-scenes changes on ''Late Show.'' (Though when EW began reporting this story, Burnett promptly issued a press release announcing the promotion of Brennan, as well as Foley's ''decision'' to voluntarily leave the show -- and that cue-card man-cum-on-screen personality Tony Mendez had been rehired.) Letterman's Worldwide Pants released this statement from Foley (who was unavailable for further comment): ''David Letterman provided me with my first shot at directing. All that I accomplish in the future will be a result of that opportunity.''
''Maria and Barbara and Jude have been with the show for 20 years. These are not monumental changes,'' says Burnett. ''Jerry's decided to move on. The fact that he directed the show for eight years is heroic. I can't believe he did it that long. As for me, I've always tried to be as involved as I can, depending on my schedule. But in no way is it accurate to say I'm somehow now taking responsibility away from [Barbara and Maria]. There are a bunch of people who have worked for Dave for a long, long time. That's the kind of loyalty he fosters.''
If there's ever a time Letterman needs some loyalty, it is now. Leno has a surprising 34 percent lead over Letterman in young viewers -- up from 26 percent last year (Letterman's sick leave didn't help; viewership for the show dropped 15 percent). Granted, Letterman's return scored the show's second-highest numbers of the season, but Leno remains the late-night king, having recently wrapped his 30th consecutive quarterly late-night ratings victory.
But Letterman has bounced back from worse. In his 21 years on late-night TV, he's weathered a network switch, open-heart surgery, highly publicized contract negotiations...and yet, says the former staffer, ''he's still amazing at what he does. He puts out an incredibly unique show that's still fun and interesting. But,'' the source adds, ''it's also a difficult thing to be a part of.''