No long-term impact on 'Late Show' seen

Some say viewers, advertisers will be loyal to Letterman

They say in show business there is no bad publicity, but how will David Letterman's revelations of sexual relations with female employees and of a foiled extortion plot over them affect his "Late Show"?

The still-evolving saga comes at a crucial time for the veteran late-night host, who recently signed a new deal with CBS to stay with the show through the 2011-12 season.

He has been on a roll the past two weeks, celebrating his largest ratings victory over NBC's "The Tonight Show" in 15 years and boasting such A-list guests as Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Then came the bombshell admission on Thursday. The news was so unexpected, the audience at "Late Show" kept laughing through most of Letterman's 10-minute confession, waiting for a punchline to a joke that never came.

But beyond the initial shock, media pundits and ad buyers don't see any long-term effect on "Late Show's" ratings or relationship with advertisers and give Letterman props for the way he handled things.

"While some of David Letterman's audience and advertisers may be disappointed, it's unlikely to cost him many of either," said John Rash of Campbell-Mithun. "By choosing to handle an unfortunate situation with the proper authorities and by breaking the story himself, whatever damage that has been done is probably already contained."

In fact, the foiled extortion plot might help Letterman, said Horizon Media's Brad Adgate.

"I think he has been on a publicity run, and this will help attract even more viewers," he said. "Most if not all advertisers will stay since he came forth and appears to be the victim."

Letterman garnered a lot of sympathy over the 2005 kidnap attempt on his son. But the current circumstances are drastically different, as sexual relations between bosses and their subordinates are generally not condoned.

However, while some viewers will be upset, "the core viewers are likely to be loyal to Dave," Katz TV's Bill Carroll said.

As for advertisers, "just as some were pressured during the Sarah Palin controversy, some may be pressured now, but most look at the audience performance more than the controversy alone. Ratings are helped or hurt by attention and this brings attention, but 'The Late Show' is on a positive roll rating wise, helped by the CBS' primetime success and NBC's declines."

CBS' solid performance and NBC's fourth-place finish on Thursday may have helped more than the scandal, which broke late on the East Coast, in enabling Letterman to top NBC's "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" on Thursday night.

According to preliminary people meter numbers, "Late Night" averaged 1.2 rating/6 share among adults 18-49, compared with 1.0/5 for "Tonight Show."

In the metered markets, which cover a larger swath of the country and include older viewers, Letterman's household ratings victory was much more decisive, 2-1 over "The Tonight Show."

As for booking guests, the scandal's sexual implications might deter politicians who run on moral values, but will probably have little effect on celebrities (sex scandals, after all, are common in Hollywood).

Letterman's top guest Thursday night, Woody Harrelson, set the tone, opening with, "It's been an auspicious night" and proceeding to trade occasional quips with Letterman over the ordeal.

While the Friday show was taped Monday and featured no references to the Thursday events, it remains to be seen whether the topic will crop up on "Late Show" during the coming weeks.

Letterman will resume taping new episodes Monday as planned, CBS said Friday.

James Hibberd contributed to this report.
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