'Late Show' ratings beat out 'Tonight Show'

Michael Richards’ mea culpa helped CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” to a rare ratings win over Jay Leno and gave the talker its best metered-market ratings in nearly a year.

Richards, who appeared on “Letterman” via satellite link, said he was “deeply, deeply sorry” for a tirade of racial epithets directed at African-American patrons of the Laugh Factory on Friday in Los Angeles.

It was the first step in attempting to repair any damage done to the “Seinfeld” franchise, which remains one of the strongest in syndication and a strong seller on DVD.

The apology, as deeply weird as Richards’ Kramer persona, quickly ascended the ranks of most-popular videos on YouTube.com on Tuesday, joining clips of the original incident from TMZ.com.

Jerry Seinfeld was a scheduled guest on “Letterman” on Monday and encouraged Richards to appear on the show to apologize, which he did via satellite link from CBS Television City in Los Angeles.

“I’m not a racist, and that’s what’s so insane about this,” the former “Seinfeld” co-star said. “For me to be at a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, I’m deeply, deeply sorry.”

Both men have a lot riding on the public’s acceptance of Richards’ apology. “Seinfeld,” which left the air in 2000, is still one of the strongest performers in the syndication market, airing on some Fox stations twice a day.

Apology came the day Sony Pictures TV released the seventh season of the show, which contains the “soup Nazi” episode, on DVD. Sales could depend, in part, on whether Richard’s apology is accepted by the public.

Clips of the apology, which was taped between 4:30 and 5 p.m. ET, aired on CBS’ “Evening News With Katie Couric” and on local 11 p.m. newscasts, which no doubt increased the “Letterman” viewership.

“Letterman’s” 5.3/13 rating in Nielsen’s 55 metered markets on Monday night was its highest since Dec. 1, 2005, when Oprah Winfrey was a guest on the show.

“Letterman” beat NBC’s “The Tonight Show” by nearly a ratings point, a rare achievement in a season where “Leno” outdraws “Letterman” by more than a million viewers, on average, per night.

Season-to-date, “Leno” has averaged 5.6 million viewers per night vs. 4.2 million for “Letterman.”

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