While David Letterman would undoubtedly do without the personal turmoil, his blackmail scandal is great for business.
The late-night talk show host'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. That includes Letterman's old rival, Jay Leno.
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.
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.
Also appreciating the timing was the pistachio nut industry, which started its first-ever television advertising campaign Monday with commercials on Letterman and the NFL game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, which was the most-watched event in cable TV history.
"This is gravy for us," said Dominic Engels, vice president for marketing at pistachio maker Paramount Farms.
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.
"The ratings popped the first night," said David Joyce, analyst for Miller Tabek. "It appears as if it's going to be a non-story."
Letterman even got an endorsement from Martha Stewart, who said his actions aren't at all disturbing unless there was force involved.
"He's a very attractive man," she said. "Very appealing. Great sense of humor, obviously, and I think all this was done while he was still not married. Although it's still probably harmful to his wife ... But, you know, men are men. I've put up with it all." (continues here)