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David Letterman’s Ratings Solid Despite Scandal

sg_davelettermanYou just can’t keep a good host down. Or David Letterman.

Weeks after the Late Show host was the victim of an extortion attempt, David Letterman’s late night talk show has shown little impact with viewers.

Early last month, Letterman revealed that he had sexual relationships with female staffers and was a victim of an alleged blackmail plot to keep those relations secret. In order to keep ahead of the story, Letterman told his nationwide audience of the issue. He even made light of the situation during subsequent weeks. Perhaps because of his “I’m going to make fun of myself first before you do” attitude, the media frenzy over his late night shenanigans has blown through rather quickly.

CBS’ Late Show weekly average rating among adults aged 18-49, a prized demographic by advertisers, 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 two weeks after his premiere to 4.1 million for the week before the repeats. To date, Late Show is down only 8% in the demographic.

“It doesn’t appear to have hurt him and likely got him more sampling,” said Katz Television Group vice-president, Bill Carroll.

Compared to other late night talkies, that’s not necessarily bad. The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien is down 15% in the demo (1.0) and down 47% in viewers (2.5 million) since Conan took over the reigns from Jay Leno, who moved to a prime-time slot. CBS has gone from being the late-night underdog to the nightly leader among total audience and maintaining a slight edge in the adult demo. Though that could change…

“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.

The Tonight franchise has demonstrated more stability long-term than Late Show, which means that O’Brien’s ratings could hit its stride and Letterman’s might have “some softening ahead.”

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