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2019 Hospitalization of Wuhan Lab Workers Fuels Questions about Virus' Origins; Phil Mickelson Scores Historic PGA Championship Win; No "Fowl Play" in Arizona as Crazy Chicken Conspiracy Debunked; Republicans Fear January 6th Probe Could Hurt 2022 Chances; Another Violent Weekend in the U.S.; The Story of Late Night on Jay Leno and David Letterman Competition. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 23, 2021 - 20:00   ET



KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under 22, and at the age of 22 this year the poet, Amanda Gorman, stood on the inaugural platform and challenged all of us. And you might remember, she said, quote, "Let us leave behind a country better than the one we are left with." So that is the work ahead of you. And that is the question in front of you. How will you make our world better?

And some of you will go on serve in our military and defend our country. And in that way, fight for the ideals of our country. Some of you will join the workforce and build our country up. Having the ability to see what can be created and what can be. Some of you will go off to college and study and explore things that we haven't even discovered yet. You will become teachers. You will become leaders. You will become nurses. You will invent the technology that will help our nation compete and you will help lead our nation including as public servants.

No matter what you decide to do, no matter where you decide to go, no matter how many times you change your major, if you go to college, or your profession, we need you. We need you to be as kind as you are courageous. We need you to be as ambitious as you are curious. We need you to dream and we need you to do.

And that is what I call American aspiration. It's the capacity to think big, the capacity to keep going. It lives in each and every one of you.

So as you cross the graduation stage in person or virtually, as we emerge from this pandemic, please remember, you are prepared. Remember, you are not alone. Remember to aspire with ambition.

And graduates, always know President Joe Biden and I and your country believers in you. And we are counting on you to lead.

Congratulations again, the Class of 2021. Thank you.


[20:05:01] LEMON: Thanks to the Mellow Tones from Duke Ellington School of the Arts for that terrific performance of "Lean on Me." And thank you to Vice President Harris for her inspiring speech.

KEILAR: On behalf of Don and everyone at CNN, we wish all the graduates and their families a healthy and happy future.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Well, tonight we are learning about new intelligence about six researchers fueling questions about whether the coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan lab.

Meantime, millions of Democratically cast votes being moved across fair grounds by a private company with a clear political bias. It can only be Arizona's bogus election audit or circus, whatever you want to call it. Our Kyung Lah is live on the scene for us tonight.

Has gun violence epidemic, more than 200 mass shootings in less than five months.

And finally living golf legend Phil Mickelson making history tonight as the oldest winner of a major tournament.

I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Sunday.

And tonight our breaking news. New information raising more questions about the origin of the coronavirus, where it came from, who got sick first, and is anyone trying to hide the truth? Most roads in the COVID origin story lead to China where the disease first appeared and people first began falling ill. But the question tonight is when, and a few very high-level reports about the timeline are not matching up.

We have several guests to talk about this. Josh Rogin is with us, CNN's national security correspondent Kylie Atwood is on the line. This news was broken today by the "Wall Street Journal."

Break it down for us, Kylie. What have you learned?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, so, Pam, we're learning that a U.S. intelligence report found that several researchers at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology felt ill in November of 2019 and that they had to be hospitalized. So this data point in and of itself doesn't bring us tremendously closer to really understanding the origin of the coronavirus, particularly because the U.S. Intelligence Committee, we're told, doesn't know if these researchers actually had COVID-19.

But earlier this year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of State under President Trump, put out a fact sheet. It declassified U.S. intelligence and it did say that Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers had fallen sick in 2019 with COVID-like symptoms. So what we're learning now is a little bit more detailed. But taking a step back here, director of National Intelligence Avril Payne told lawmakers earlier this year that the intelligence community still really doesn't know when, where and how the virus was transmitted initially.

So this is an interesting noteworthy data point but really understanding how it falls into the fuller picture is something that the intelligence community is still looking into.

BROWN: A data point in a big mystery from a pandemic that has killed so many.

Kylie Atwood, thank you so much.

And now I want to bring in CNN medical analyst, Dr. Celine Gounder. She was the assistant health commissioner of New York City and served on President Biden's COVID Advisory Board during the transition. Also with me CNN political analyst Josh Rogin. He writes about foreign policy and national security for "The Washington Post."

Josh, you have noted in your work that there has been no credible investigation into how the virus got into the world. Does this new intelligence report help fill in some holes for you?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It fills in a couple of holes but not really all of the holes. As Kylie correctly pointed out, this is just a little bit more circumstantial evidence, pointing to the still yet unproven theory that the coronavirus operate might be connected in some way to an accident at this Wuhan lab. Now the importance of it is not just that now we know the number of researchers that U.S. intelligence were sick, that's three. We know when they got sick according to U.S. intelligence. That's November 2019, remember, before we knew about the coronavirus.

But -- and we know that they went to the hospital which means they probably just didn't have the common cold. That doesn't really get us to where we need to be. The only way we could really follow up on that is by having a full investigation into the lab. And the problem with the WHO investigation is that they sent some scientists who were the best (INAUDIBLE) into the lab and had a clear conflict of interests, and they went to the lab for three hours and they said nothing to see here, and we called it highly unlikely.


And now we're finding out that actually they didn't really do as much investigation as they ought to have and that's an opinion shared by the Biden administration and by the head of the WHO, Dr. Tedros, by the way. So all this tells us is that there is a little bit more reason to look into these labs. And no one has done a credible investigation looking into these labs, and it's been 18 months since the outbreak started and the Chinese government has covered up what they know and refused to release the data that they have. And this is coming at a direct cost to our national security and our public health. So the question remains is, are we ever going to look into these labs?

BROWN: That is an open question this evening. And Dr. Gounder, these new intelligence report doesn't specifically say that these researchers had COVID back in November 2019 but they were sick enough to need hospitalization as we've been talking about. Would you see that at that time a red flag that the Wuhan lab had a potential emergency? What do you think?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Pam, it's really hard to say in part because the Chinese healthcare system is in fact quite different from our own. People there do seek out medical care at the hospital for -- with a lower threshold just because a lot of the outpatient care may not be as good. So you know, what you or I might just see a doctor in urgent care for or regular doctor, people might be going to the hospital for there.

So I think, you know we might be overreading that as a red flag. And I think ultimately the only way to really sort this out is to have full transparency. It's very difficult to interpret what's happening when you're talking about classified intelligence. What I would really want to see are things like the patient records. I'd like to see what their clinical symptoms were, their lab tests, their radiology tests. I'd like to see logs of what was happening in the lab at the time. Safety protocols and what was being recorded about adherence to that.

So in the absence of full transparency, in the absence of those kinds of details, it's very difficult to know what to make of this.

BROWN: Yes. And it's frankly frustrating that we don't have those details and that information. We're so far into this pandemic. Right? And so many people have died and yet there are still so many open questions and it's a guessing game. You get these little pieces that come out.

I was just talking, Josh, to a former Trump administration official on the phone who said the Trump administration very early on, the prevailing theory was this lab theory, that it was accidental coming out of the lab. And they had a few reasons for that. This source couldn't go into any detail on it, but just the way trying to behave with it. Now we're learning about this new intelligence. And as you know, Mike Pompeo has tripled down on his lab theory, saying that he has long been convinced that the pandemic started at that lab.

His former boss, Donald Trump, even suggested that China unleashed the virus deliberately to hurt other global economies. No evidence at this point to support that. But how is all of that factor into this new intel in your view?

ROGIN: Right. Well, you're exactly right, and I agree with every word that the doctor said. You know, the bottom line is that there is increasing evidence that points to we need to investigate the lab. But that's going to be a very tough thing to do because the Chinese government has withheld all the data and jailed anybody who didn't toe the party line. And, you know, we're at this weird situation where the Biden administration is confirming a lot of what the Trump administration said and some of these details are coming out but it directly contradicts what the Chinese government is saying.

So that's a big problem, the Chinese government may be lying and maybe covering up. And we need to know. But there's also a lot of information that the Biden administration is sitting on. And in other words, we got these three tiny details about this intelligence report, but there's a lot more there I'm here to tell you. Like what were the researchers doing? Right? Three sick researchers, sure, they might have had the flu or whatever, but where were these the researchers that were working on bat coronaviruses than in fact humans which we know was going on there?

Well, that would be interesting, wouldn't it? You know, what -- you know, where are they now? Let's get them on TV. Are they alive? Are they OK? You know, these are things that the Biden administration could push for and could declassify. So what we really need first is for the Biden administration to decide to look into this and then use its tool and tell us what they know. That would be a great first step.

BROWN: Right. I mean, there is a big question about the COVID antibodies, that the lab workers have them. I know a WHO official had told Sanjay Gupta that they had been tested for antibodies. But as you point out, Josh, there are huge --

ROGIN: They lie all the time.

BROWN: Yes. I was going to say huge credibility problem there.

ROGIN: Problems.

BROWN: And, Dr. Gounder, you know, a number of scientists and health officials that we've spoken to subscribe to the COVID-19 lab leak theory. I know you have expressed skepticism of it previously. We've heard what you had to say tonight. Let's just listen again, though, to what former CDC director Robert Redfield told us back in March.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: If I was to guess this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan.


REDFIELD: That's my own feeling, only opinion. I'm allowed to have opinions now. You know, I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely ideology of this pathogen of Wuhan is from a laboratory.



BROWN: So back then when this first came out, Dr. Gounder, you originally called that a fringe theory. But what do you think now based on this reporting as incremental as it is? I know it is a data point. But for you, does it move the needle at all?

GOUNDER: You know, I think you also have to look at the details of what Dr. Redfield said. He is talking about this virus transmitting back in September, October. We have no evidence of that. So yes, I mean, I think that is a fringe theory still, that it's been transmitting in the community in China for that long. You know, I do think big picture we absolutely need to be chasing down all leads.

This needs to be a no-holds-barred investigation where whether you're investigating the other main theory which is the idea of spillover from animals into humans or you're investigating a lab accident. Either way, we really need to be investigating both thoroughly, and neither frankly has been really detailed in any way in terms of the investigation. And so I think we have a lot more work to do on the ground regardless.

BROWN: It's just so crazy to think that. Go ahead, Josh.

ROGIN: Yes. I mean, I just have to think a slight issue. I hear what you're saying, Doctor, but, you know, the WHO spent over a year looking for pangolins and palm civets and raccoon dogs that might be connected to the operate. We didn't find any, OK? So there's been much, much, much more investigation over the natural spillover theory than the lab theory --


GOUNDER: Well, no, I have to interrupt you. I do need to interrupt you.

ROGIN: And then -- I'm sorry.

GOUNDER: There is a lot more --

ROGIN: I'm sorry, I'm speaking.

BROWN: Hold on one second.

GOUNDER: There's a lot more that needs to be investigated on that one. There's not been --

BROWN: Hold on, Dr. Gounder, Dr. Gounder.

ROGIN: I'm sorry I was speaking.

BROWN: I'm going to let you speak in just a moment. Let's have Josh finish and then I promise to give you the time to respond to that.

ROGIN: Thank you, Pamela. My point was that if you look at the work of the WHO, they dismissed and said the lab leak theory was highly unlikely but then without the data that they would need to make that determination and some of the scientists had a clear conflict of interest and the WHO report was scrubbed by the Chinese government censors. And then the head of the WHO said that we need to spend more time investigating the lab.

So there's a record here. There's been a lot more investigation of the natural spillover theory but we haven't found any evidence, direct evidence that the natural spillover theory is true. And now if you're saying that we need to look into both, yes, I think we do. But we have to recognize that there's been a year of scientists telling us not to look into the lab leak theory. And now those scientists are saying OK, well, we should look at both, and that's great, but that doesn't mean that we've done that or that attention has been equal is simply not the case.

BROWN: OK. Dr. Gounder?

GOUNDER: Yes, Josh, with all due respect, if you're really going to be investigating a spillover, you need to be doing broad testing of the population, so that's people as well as domestic animals and wild life. And that has not been done. So there are still a lot of work to be done on the ground, properly investigate that theory as well as the lab leak hypothesis.

ROGIN: True.

BROWN: I think the thing we can all agree on is we need more answers that we don't have and it's absurd and ridiculous that this isn't being more thoroughly investigated all around.

ROGIN: Absolutely.

BROWN: Dr. Celine Gounder, Josh Rogin, thank you all so much.

ROGIN: Thank you.

BROWN: And still ahead on this Sunday night, tragedy in China as sudden extreme weather kills 21 ultramarathon runners.

Plus more unbelievable scenes out of Eastern Congo where thousands were forced to flee as lava swallowed their homes.

But first tonight, Phil Mickelson making history, becoming the oldest winner of a major tournament thanks to a nail-biting PGA Championship. Our Don Riddell was live as it all happened, and he joins us live next.



BROWN: Well, moments ago Phil Mickelson scored a historic win at the PGA Championship becoming the oldest major champion in golf history.

Let's bring in CNN's Don Riddell for more -- Don.

DON RIDDELL, CNN HOST, WORLD SPORT: Hey, Pamela. What an extraordinary day it has been. Just to give you a bit of context about this record. Golf's oldest major champion is a record that has stood since 1968 before man walked on the moon. Think how long that is. And now Phil Mickelson has come along to win his sixth major title at the age of almost 51. It's going to be his birthday next month.

This was just an extraordinary weekend for so many different reasons. Look at the golf, but look at the crowd. This place was absolutely packed after the long lockdown that many sports fans and all of us have experienced. This really did feel like golf's welcome back party. And what an incredible story. Phil Mickelson, arguably the most exciting golfer of his generation, certainly one of the most popular if not the most popular player amongst the fans, rolling back the year with just an incredible performance all weekend.

The scene at the end with those fans chasing him down the fairway is something that you would really see in Hollywood movies. He said he never experienced something like it. The shot he played out of the sand on the fifth for a birdie just the place erupted. That is an image and a clip that is going to be played over and over again. He has had so many incredible moments in his career but that could be one that defines him. It's just incredible stuff.

BROWN: Wow. What an indelible moment for Phil Mickelson. Don Riddell, thank you so much.

And up next on this Sunday evening, millions of Democratically cast votes are being moved across fairgrounds by a private company with a clear political bias, and it could only be Arizona's bogus election audit. If you want to call it that.


And guess what, they're still digging. Our Kyung Lah is live on the scene for us when we come back.


BROWN: Well, the Arizona audit will resume tomorrow. Ballot inspectors had to take a week off so the coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds could host previously booked high school graduations. 2.1 million ballots had to be moved out. Where do they go? Who's been watching them? So many questions.

CNN's Kyung Lah joins me from Phoenix.

Kyung, today on your Twitter feed, you pointed out that this whole process has been presided over by a private company Cyber Ninjas.


You talk about how difficult it is to gain access for the media, just to get basic answers to basic questions. Tell us what it's been like for you on the ground, what's going on there?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a completely opaque process. It's very difficult to know exactly what they're doing with these ballots. Remember, we're talking about votes from the 2020 election. The bedrock of democracy. That is what we are talking about. So let me bring you up to speed here on exactly what we've been watching throughout the day today.

Now those ballots you were talking about, they have been held in a storage facility just on the other side of where I'm standing. That storage facility for the last nine days has been the home for 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County, the most populous county here in the state of Arizona. They have been in this facility where election experts have been concerned about their exposure to moisture, their exposure to heat. And then today we saw trucks offloading them, moving them from that

facility into the coliseum, forklifts picking them up and moving them back on to the coliseum floor for this count to restart. It looks like, you know, a factory distribution site but these are the votes of the people of Arizona. So this is a deeply partisan effort run by a very little-known company called Cyber Ninjas. It has led to an outcry by Republican leaders here in Maricopa County as well as election experts across this country saying that while it may resemble an audit, while it may look like an audit, this is not an audit -- Pamela.

BROWN: And as you were talking, Kyung, I mean, the banner that we have under you said it all. "No foul play in Arizona" as crazy chicken conspiracy debunk. I mean, those are the kinds of things that they have been looking at there. It's just -- I don't even know what the word is, Kyung. But thank you for bringing us the latest there on the ground in Phoenix.

Well, here are some basic facts. Both Democrats and Republicans were in harm's way on January 6th. Both sides have said that. We saw it for our own eyes, the video. In the days and the weeks after, Democrats and Republicans condemned the Capitol attack and Donald Trump's role in inciting it.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters.


BROWN: Democrats and Republicans called for a fact-finding mission into the events of that day, including 30 Republicans who sponsored a bill to, quote, "establish the National Commission on the Domestic Terrorist Attack upon the United States Capitol."

Again, Republican-sponsored bill. Democrats and Republicans finally agreed, they have finally agreed on the makeup of such a commission. But despite this, 175 House Republicans voted against it including 16 who were in favor of that almost identical bill in January. And now Republicans are prime to kill it in the Senate. Here is one reason given for the party's about-face.


MCCARTHY: There's already four investigations. You mentioned one, Department of Justice already has arrested 445 people with approximately another 100 arrests to come. This would just get in the way of that. You have two investigations going on in Senate committees. You also have the architect of the Capitol was given $10 million to have a full review of the Capitol, of ways to secure it. And now we want to put a political commission to go forward?


BROWN: It is true there are other ongoing probes. But they all have different goals and different scopes. And they don't change the fact that this country still hasn't heard details from key players on January 6th like then Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows or Kevin McCarthy himself, who spoke to Trump in the heat of the moment begging him to intervene.

For the record, House Republicans had no issue with overlap when they investigated the 2012 Benghazi attack. They were among 10 entities that conducted inquiries including the State Department and the FBI. GOP lawmakers held dozens of hearings and witnessed interviews, they got 11 hours of testimony from Hillary Clinton and they released an 800-page report.

Here was Congressman McCarthy's justification for that massive effort.


MCCARTHY: This Benghazi Committee was only created for one purpose. To find the truth on behalf of the families for the four dead Americans.



BROWN: Well, five Americans died on January 6th, two Capitol police officers died by suicide in the days after. What about their memories and their families? Finding out the truth for them. For some Republicans, that seems to depend on the political fallout.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): There are some of our members who I think obviously have an interest in seeing a commission go forward, others who I think believe it will be counterproductive because of the work that's already been done, and it could be weaponized politically, and dragged into next year.


BROWN: What happen to just doing the right thing? It is fair to ask these politicians that. What about just doing the right thing? There was a domestic terror attack in the country. Rioters stormed the Capitol building, five people were killed, they tried to interrupt a sacred moment in the election process by the Constitution. The thing that's best for this country and democracy, the thing that Republicans supported before this huge effort to get them to vote against a bipartisan commission. Just finding out the truth.

It appears a big driver behind that change of heart is a fear that the majority party would weaponize a fact-finding mission like we just heard. Weaponize -- say it like this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCARTHY: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable. Right? But we put together a Benghazi Special Committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not thought --



BROWN: Republicans who want to spike this bipartisan commission should be careful perhaps what they wish for. Here is why. Democrats have not forgotten how Benghazi was used as a political cudgel by removing themselves from the January 6th election -- equation, rather, Republicans could give them a chance to return the favor.

And still ahead on this Sunday night, a shocking statistic. 7500 people already dead from gun violence this year as America records more than 200 mass shootings in less than five months. We'll be right back.



BROWN: Well, 21 ultramarathon runners are dead after extreme weather hit during their race. Officials say the marathon in Central China started out sunny yesterday but by the afternoon runners were being lashed by freezing rain, hail and gale force winds. Organizers realized something was wrong when runners started complaining of hypothermia and others simply went missing. The race was called off and search parties began looking for victims.

And now to America's other pandemic, the never-ending cycle of gun violence. Not even halfway into 2021 and more than 7500 people have been shot and killed. And there have been more than 200 mass shootings. There were at least seven more just last night.

CNN's Natasha Chen has the latest on another violent weekend in America.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A weekend of bloodshed across the country has rattled many communities, especially those mourning the loss of young people.

ALEXIS CLOONAN, 6-YEAR-OLD BROTHER KILLED IN SHOOTING: He said, mom, my tummy hurts, so she went and she picked him up, and he was bleeding on her, and she had blood on her clothes.

CHEN: The sister of 6-year-old Aiden Leos pleaded with the public for help after someone shot into their mother's car Friday morning in an apparent road rage incident, killing the child in the backseat.

CLOONAN: Please, help us find the people that did this to my little brother. He's only 6 and he was so sweet.

CHEN: He had just celebrated his 6th birthday last week. Aiden Leos was killed in Orange, California, in one of at least 10 shooting incidents across the U.S. since Friday. Charlie Johnson was shot and killed in Minneapolis early Saturday morning, the day he was set to graduate from the University of St. Thomas and St. Paul. The university president said, "On a day he and his family should have been celebrating his graduation from our School of Engineering, we are devastated by this loss." In Youngstown, Ohio, three people are dead and five others wounded.

MAYOR JAMAL TITO BROWN, YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO: As a father of four, unnecessary violence. Our young people. Unnecessary violence. It breaks my heart to hear when we have young men and women who die at a young age, so much potential ahead of them. So much life in front of them.

CHEN: The same is truth for a 14-year-old killed in North Charleston, South Carolina, late Saturday night at what police say was an unauthorized neighborhood concert, for a 16-year-old killed in Columbus, Ohio, the same night at a private event promoted on social media. And for a 15-year-old, one of five people killed in Chicago in a drive-by shooting. In the Bronx, police said two were injured in a subway shooting after a robbery gone wrong.

JEREMY LYNCH, WITNESS TO SUBWAY SHOOTING: I took cover behind the worker's booth.

CHEN: According to Gun Violence Archive, the number of gun deaths not counting suicides is about 7300 so far this year. This outpaces the number of gun deaths for the same period in previous years, more than 20 percent higher than this period in 2020 and more than 40 percent higher than the same period in 2019, while some have felt their neighborhoods perhaps grow quieter during pandemic lockdowns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting over COVID and it looks like the madness is coming back.

CHEN: Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.




BROWN: An opposition activist in Belarus has been detained after his plane was diverted and made an emergency landing in Minsk. This man, Raman Pratasevich, has been in exile and was traveling on Ryanair plane from Greece to Lithuania when it was diverted and he was detained at the airport. The plane was diverted by a fighter jet.

Pratasevich is a vocal critic of Belarus' president. The U.S. ambassador to Belarus condemned the diversion and arrest calling it dangerous and abhorrent. In Central Africa tonight, a frantic search for hundreds of children

missing and feared separated from their families after that nightmare volcanic eruption. This is the Democratic Republic of Congo, smoke and lava covering the landscape where entire villages used to be.


The volcano erupted this weekend near the major city of Goma killing at least 11 people and sending thousands of others running literally for their lives.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We were in the market and then we had to run without any belongings. When we returned to the city, the houses were burned. And some people were left destitute. I got into an accident and got hurt. So we are appealing for assistance and especially for food. We need food because we don't know where we're going to get it from.


BROWN: About 8,000 people walked across the border into neighboring Rwanda for food and shelter after the eruption. Humanitarian officials say people are not yet panicking but they are understandably very worried. Geologists say the volcano seems to have stopped erupting for now.

Well, in this week's episode of the CNN Original Series, "THE STORY OF LATE NIGHT," see how Johnny Carson's retirement from "The Tonight Show" touched a nation and touched off an epic late-night war between Jay Leno and David Letterman. Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were still a number of people within NBC who felt strongly that it was a mistake to let Dave Letterman leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They agonized over the loss of David Letterman.

BILL CARTER, ANCHOR, THE LATE SHOW: They still have Letterman under contract for more than a year. And they said maybe we should reconsider the original decision not to give Dave the show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And before Dave Letterman jumped ship from NBC --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They wanted to make one final move to try and get Dave.

CARTER: They offered him the "Tonight Show," but he's only going to get it in a year and a half when Jay's first contract is up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said to Dave, we can't go near that offer. That's total bull -- because they'll get out of it. And Dave was really confused at that point.

CARTER: And Peter Lassally says, you know what, Dave, call Johnny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Johnny said, if they treated me the way they're treating you, no, I would go to CBS.


BROWN: Joining me now is executive producer of the series and CNN media analyst, Bill Carter.

Bill, great to see you. Nice to have you on as always.


BROWN: So Carson's last night hosting "The Tonight Show" was a national event. What kind of impact did his departure have on the audience and those lining up to succeed him?

CARTER: Well, first of all, it was really emotional. People had spent a lot of time with this guy, you know, often in bed late at night while they're watching him on TV. And, you know, his show when he said farewell, then he had Bette Middler singing to him, we showed him in the show tonight, it was really emotional. People really got choked up by it.

But it basically opened the floodgates because when he was there nobody could really challenge him or "The Tonight Show." But when he left, NBC had two guys, both of whom really had earned the job, and they had to pick one, that meant one guy was going to go somewhere else and become a real competitor, and that turned out to be David Letterman.

BROWN: So you have Jay Leno ending up on NBC, Letterman on CBS. There was this tug of war competition between the two of them to get the best ratings in late night. How did each of them find their footing?

CARTER: Well, it was very interesting because as we pointed out in that clip, Jay had the job for like a year, a year and a half, two years before Letterman's contract ran out. So before he could leave, NBC kind of got cold feet and thought maybe we should keep Dave because I don't -- maybe he's the better guy. So there was tremendous drama at the very end of that. But then he goes to CBS and he's fantastic and he beats them for two years, and setting a precedent that had never been set.

No one had beaten "The Tonight Show" ever, so the fact that he did that was absolutely remarkable. But a lot of things turned again and then Jay went back on top. And he had a long run as number one. And it was such an incredible competition, Pam, that late in their run, when they did a Super Bowl commercial together by surprise in the Super Bowl. President Obama literally called up the producers of the show to say, "Did this really happen?" Was this -- did these guys actually do something together? That's how much of a national story it was.

BROWN: Oh, man, so NBC is looking to fill Letterman's old slot at 12:30, they tapped Conan O'Brien.


BROWN: Who ushers in this whole new generation of late-night hosts on network and cable TV. How does that change late-night quickly?

CARTER: Well, very interesting. All kinds of creativity. Conan is widely creative and then everybody else in the business is like what else can we do? And what did cable do? They come up with Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show," and that raises it to a whole new level because it brings in Stephen Colbert and all these talents, Jimmy Kimmel, tremendous amount of talent is ushered in in this generation.


BROWN: So fascinating. Bill Carter, thank you so much for coming on. We look forward to watching this.

Be sure to catch the next episode of "THE STORY OF LATE NIGHT." That airs next right here on CNN.

And don't forget, everyone, you can tweet me @PamelaBrownCNN. You can also follow me on Instagram. Thank you so much for joining me tonight. I'm Pamela Brown, and I'll see you again next weekend. Have a good night.