Hillary chat boosts Letterman for week

Guest hosts could fill in during Dave's recovery

David Letterman has regained the latenight Nielsen throne — at least for a week.

Thanks to Hillary and a little heart, Letterman and his CBS “Late Show” beat Jay Leno in latenight total viewers for the first time in a non-Olympics week in more than four years, according to Nielsen data for the week of Jan. 10-14.

Nielsens for Letterman’s “Late Show” were boosted by his Wednesday interview with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and additional viewer interest generated later in the week by Letterman’s multiple bypass surgery that Friday.

“Letterman” averaged 5.91 million viewers for the week, topping the 5.80 million for Leno’s “Tonight Show.” Leno still held the edge in all key demos, such as adults 25-54, in which “Tonight” managed a 2.7 rating, 12 share (down 7% in rating vs. year-ago results) to Letterman’s 2.3/10 (up 28%).

Guest hosts possible

Against the backdrop of the ratings triumph, “Late Show” exec producer Rob Burnett said Friday that he and CBS are open to the possibility of guest hosts filling in for Letterman during the host’s convalescence.

“We have a buffet of opportunities,” Burnett said, noting that he’s “never been opposed” to the idea.

Burnett said, however, that nothing would be decided until Letterman is well enough to be consulted. That could be as early as this week.

Several celebs have already offered to fill in for Letterman, including daytime gabbers Rosie O’Donnell and Regis Philbin, Burnett said. “Late Show” producers are also considering having celebs tape wraparounds to run with repeat segs.

The show’s total-viewers win is Letterman’s first in a non-Olympics week since Jan. 8-12, 1996, and first head-to-head win during the regular season with firstrun segs for both talkers since May 22-26, 1995.

The Wednesday “Late Show,” featuring Letterman’s first lady interview, polled an 8.2/23 in households, the best non-Olympic “Late Show” figure since Letterman’s second night on CBS, Aug. 31, 1993.

Those Hillary numbers also beat every “Tonight” rating in the Jay-vs.- Dave era excepting the night of the “Seinfeld” finale.

Burnett said he was pleased by the ratings win, but not particularly giddy.

“Ratings have never meant that much to us. … As I’ve said a million times, ratings are a function of lead-in,” he said, attributing the Jan. 10-14 triumph to the “event” status of the Clinton appearance.

“To the extent we have events we can overcome our lead-in … but after 18 years on the air, you can’t have an event every night.”

‘Tonight’ leads season

Season-to-date, “Tonight” still leads “Late Show” by 1.88 million viewers (5.96 million vs. 4.08 million) and by 4 shares in adults 25-54 (2.7/12 vs. 1.8/8). ABC’s “Nightline” is second, ahead of Letterman in viewers (4.63 million) and the 25-54 demo (2.0/8).

In the week’s early-morning Nielsens, meanwhile, NBC’s “Today” equaled its fifth-highest total-viewer count ever (6.5 million) and lengthened its advantage over ABC’s “Good Morning America” vs. year-ago results, when Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson joined the ABC ayemcast. That year-ago margin was 2.0 million viewers, while last week’s “Today” edge was 2.2 million.

In weekend latenight results, Fox’s “Mad TV” grabbed its highest adults 18-34 results (3.7/15) since Feb. 28, 1998, while NBC’s “Friday Night” (featuring Blink-182), earned the highest 18-49 results (1.1/9) in that series’ six-year history.

Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.24 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. The share is also a percentage, but measured against only viewers watching TV during the slot involved.