Scandal boosts Letterman's ratings

TV Arts


Scandal boosts David Letterman's ratings
CBS' 'Late Show' up 13% overall for the season to date

By James Hibberd

Several weeks after David Letterman was shaken by an image-rocking
scandal, CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" has shown little sign
of weakening audience support.

Far from hurting the host's popularity, the sex-and-extortion
headlines seemingly have had little impact on his late-night show and
possibly even helped the series grow its viewership compared with last

"It doesn't appear to have hurt him and likely got him more sampling,"
said Bill Carroll, vp and director of programming at Katz Television

Letterman enjoyed an unusually strong premiere week, bolstered by
appearances by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, before he revealed
during the Oct. 1 episode that he has had sexual relationships with
female staffers and that he was a victim of an alleged blackmail plot
to keep those affairs secret.

Since then, "Late Show's" weekly average rating in the adults 18-49
demographic has been a consistent 1.0 or 1.1 until it went into
repeats last week. It has dropped slightly among total viewers, from
an average of 4.4 million for a couple of weeks after his premiere to
4.1 million for the week before the repeats.

Season to date, "Late Show" is down 8% in the adult demo (1.1 average)
and up 13% total viewers (4.4 million).

If that seems like a pretty mixed return, it's sunny compared to NBC's
"The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien."

With O'Brien now at the helm instead of Jay Leno, "Tonight" is down
15% in the demo (1.0) and 47% in viewers (2.5 million). As a result,
CBS has shifted from being the perpetual late-night underdog to firmly
leading "Tonight" among total audience and maintaining a slight edge
in the adult demo.

"Tonight's" performance compared with "Late Show" also is impacted by
each network's 10 p.m. story. CBS has bolstered its hour with "The
Mentalist" on Thursdays and "The Good Wife" on Tuesdays, which have
helped offset erosion in the time period during its other nights.
Meanwhile, NBC's switch to "The Jay Leno Show" has given affiliates'
local-news telecasts a notably weaker lead-in.

The potential upside for NBC is that its veteran "Tonight" franchise
has demonstrated more stability week after week than "Late Show,"
suggesting that O'Brien's ratings could have settled into a groove and
Letterman's might have some softening ahead.

"Letterman was the top story on the news for days running for quite a
while and is still more on the minds of the general public than he's
practically ever been before," a network analyst said. "In a
fragmented universe where achieving a 1 rating is a victory, having
literally tens of millions of people buzzing about you is generally
going to be a really big advantage."

For the networks' late-night second acts, the story is similar: CBS'
"The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" (2 million, 0.6) has made
gains among viewers, tying NBC's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (1.4
million, 0.6) in the adult demo.
The boost came before the scandal.

Tom W
I'm always surprised when writers talk about the 10 pm show affecting late 
night ratings. Is any viewer really that dim or lazy that they'll, say, 

was a rousing episode of The Mentalist on at 10 pm? Um, the remote control 
has been around for about 50 years now, guys.