Blackmail scandal boosts Letterman ratings
David Letterman's apologies to his wife and staff made for gripping television, and more viewers tuned in to his CBS program than watched anything on NBC in prime time on Monday.
The 5.7 million viewers who tuned in to Letterman Monday more than doubled the audience for NBC's Tonight show with Conan O'Brien, according to the Nielsen Co. It was slightly less than the 5.9 million who watched Thursday when Letterman broke the news of the alleged extortion attempt.
The ratings are a testament to the power of the internet after Letterman's representatives released details of the scandal to the media about three hours before his show aired Thursday. His audience that night was more than a million more than usual, meaning word spread quickly and encouraged people to tune in.
The timing also couldn't be better for CBS, which has seen Letterman eclipse the Tonight show shortly after O'Brien took over. The Late Show is solidifying the lead partly because of the scandal and guests like President Barack Obama, who brought 7.2 million viewers when he appeared on Sept. 21.
On Monday, Letterman used most of his monologue for jokes at his own expense. In revealing last week that he was the victim of an alleged blackmail scheme, Letterman also admitted to having sexual relationships with women who worked on his Late Show.
When the laughs quieted down, Letterman apologized to his staff for "putting up with something stupid I've gotten myself involved in."
Many had been humiliated by questions from reporters. Letterman said the relationships were in the past. He married longtime flame Regina Lasko in March, and said he is intent upon repairing their marriage.
"Let me tell you folks, I got my work cut out for me," he said.
CBS News producer Robert J. "Joe" Halderman has pleaded not guilty to charges of trying to extort $2 million from Letterman.
Although Letterman has acknowledged having more than one sexual relationship with staff members, Halderman referred to only one woman by name — Stephanie Birkitt — in his alleged extortion attempt, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.
Birkitt, Letterman's assistant, is Halderman's former live-in girlfriend.
No advertisers have publicly asked to back out of the Late Show since the story broke, and analysts say they don't expect the incident to make a bottom-line difference to the CBS Corp.