Senator Al Franken has been removed from a PBS program that aired nationally as a tribute to former CBS Late Night host and comedian David Letterman on Monday at 8 p.m.
After noting that “Franken participated in the event,” the network stated that he “will not appear substantially in the PBS program” because his inclusion “at this time would distract from the show's purpose as a celebration of American humor."
According to an article by Kimberly Nordyke of the Hollywood Reporter website, the Democratic official was removed from the “updated” special, which is entitled David Letterman: The Mark Twain Prize, because PBS and WETA -- the producing television station that covers the Washington, D.C., area -- since the Minnesota senator was accused of sexual harassment last week.
“Every year, this program is edited for both length and content to keep it entertaining and focused on its intended purpose as a celebration of American humor,” the statement added.
The segment originally featured Franken thanking Letterman in “a post-retirement series of videos that he and Letterman recorded together designed to raise awareness on climate change.”
However, KABC radio anchor Leeann Tweeden claimed that Franken kissed and groped her without her permission while returning from a tour to entertain troops in the Middle East for the United Service Organizations (USO) in 2006.
The assertion was supported by a picture of Franken posing with his hands on her breasts while she was asleep during the plane flight back to the U.S.
Shortly after Tweeden's first-person essay was posted online, Franken released a statement through his press office extending his "sincerest apologies to Leeann," he said. "As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."
“Franken then released a lengthier second statement” in which he called for an ethics investigation of himself and “vowed to cooperate fully” with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
The Minnesota Democrat also noted:
The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women.
There's more I want to say, but the first and most important thing -- and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine -- is: "I'm sorry."
The PBS event was held last month at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington to commemorate the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which is named after the 19th century novelist, essayist and humorist and “is presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution to America humor.”
In addition, the prize is presented by several of the honoree’s peers and is a significant fund-raiser for the Kennedy Center.
The Associated Press covered the event by indicating that “several of the comedians honoring Letterman took shots at President Donald Trump and the general state of the country. More than one comedian quipped that the Kennedy Center's funding was about to be cut off mid-show.”
Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live, jokingly blamed Letterman for helping to bring Trump to power. "It's like you went out for cigarettes one day and left us in the hands of our abusive, orange stepfather,” he joked.
He also praised Letterman profusely, recalling a monologue he delivered on his show shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
"You let us know it was OK to move on and OK to laugh again," Kimmel said. "Dave, you led the way for all of us."
The 70-year-old Letterman spent 33 years on late-night TV, hosting long-running shows on NBC and then on CBS. His final broadcast aired on May 20, 2015, and exceeded the record of his mentor, Johnny Carson.
NBC gave Letterman his own show following Carson beginning on Feb. 1, 1982. Late Night With David Letterman debuted with first guest Bill Murray, the Twain award recipient in 2016.
Letterman ended the evening with a brief speech and a bit of dark humor, saying: "I kind of wish this award could be presented posthumously."
He also thanked the "hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands" of people who helped him along the way and closed the event with a politically tinged quote from Mark Twain himself on the subject of patriotism: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and supporting your government when it deserves it.”
Franken had not responded to the PBS announcement by Monday afternoon.