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David Letterman scores again in staff-shagging saga

[This report has been updated}

Once again, David Letterman has done just fine in the ratings with developing news about his shagging of interns/staffers on his show, hopefully teaching a lesson to all to all those TV industry navel-lint pickers who had predicted the story would nobble Letterman's TV career because the American public, and advertisers, would not stand for such brazen behavior on the part of its on-air broadcast talent.

About 4 million people tuned to see what Letterman would have to say about the guilty plea entered that day by a former TV news producer who admitted he'd tried to shake down the late night host to the tune of $2 million by exposing Letterman's taste in interns/staffers. One week earlier, Letterman averaged 3.7 million people on Tuesday night.

Letterman had been ahead of Leno in early stats for Tuesday night, but those numbers reflected larger TV markets where Letterman is stongest; later numbers factored in more fly-over country where Leno is strong.

Robert "Joe" Halderman pleaded guilty Tuesday to attempted grand larceny, admitting he tried shake down Letterman by threatening to make public the comic's sexual activities with people working for his WorldWide Pants production company, according to press reports.

Halderman had gotten the information out of the diary of a former girlfriend who was one of Letterman's interns/staffers/shagees.

Halderman, a former producer on CBS News's "48 Hours," is looking at six months in the slammer and 1,000 hours of community service after pleading guilty to attempted grand larceny. That's instead of the possible 15-year prison sentence he was looking at if he'd gone to trial and been found guilty.

Sadly, Halderman's guilty plea robs Letterman of a potential ratings bonanza during a trial that was, according to The Ladies of River City Who Cover Television, sure to get ugly.

Some small consolation: Halderman's sentencing is set for May 4, during the May sweep ratings derby. Letterman is sure to have have something to say about the sentencing which may goose his ratings one last time and during that important ratings period.

In fairness, the 4 million-ish who appear to have tuned in Tuesday to hear what Letterman had to say about the latest development in his Staff Shagging Saga, is nowhere near the nearly 6 million who watched on Thursday, Oct. 1, when Letterman first revealed what most Reporters Who Cover Television had been hearing for ages: he had shagged interns/staffers on his show over the years. That night, Letterman told his national audience he was revealing this information because a guy was trying to shake him down with information about his dalliances. Halderman was arrested that same day.

The following Monday, when he apologized on air to his wife-and-mother-of-his-child, Regina Lasko, he clocked nearly as big a crowd - 5.7 million viewers.

"The case at first dealt a blow to Letterman's nice-guy image," The Associated Press wrote Tuesday even though:

a) Letterman doesn't have that kind of nice-guy image.


b) The public was lapping up him and the story, in numbers approaching the crowd he'd attracted less than two weeks earlier when he snagged President Obama to come on the show. And Obama's visit had given Letterman his biggest audience in about four years. Additionally, word of the intern shagging caused Letterman to get sampled by more young male viewers who are the Holy Grail of Madison Avenue.

People who tuned in to Letterman's CBS late night show Tuesday had to wait nearly half an hour for Dave to address Halderman's guilty plea. He finally got down to it after reading the night's Top 10 list:

I need to talk to you about a segment of my life here that began six months ago. I found myself in some legal trouble, and pretty quickly, it was turned over to the District Attorney's office here in Manhattan. Now, I'd never been involved in anything like this in my life, and I was concerned and full of anxiety and nervous and worried. And the people in the District Attorney's office said, 'This will be handled professionally, this will be handled skillfully, and appropriately.' Well, the matter was resolved today, and they were exactly right - it was handled professionally, skillfully and appropriately.

And then, he said, "by way of demonstrating my thanks to the men and women who worked on this, I would like to mention their names now" - and he did.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  March 10, 2010; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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