Will Letterman Let Stern Poke CBS in the Eye?

Dennis Haysbert, left, gets out of the Oval Office to kick a little ratings heinie in
Dennis Haysbert, left, gets out of the Oval Office to kick a little ratings heinie in "The Unit." (By Michael Yarish -- Cbs)
By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, March 9, 2006

In an interesting bit of booking, CBS's "Late Show With David Letterman" announced yesterday it has lined up Howard Stern, who is being sued by CBS, for the March 13 show.

Ostensibly, Stern will appear to chat up the video-on-demand version of his Sirius Satellite Radio show on iN Demand Networks. But we're guessing some talk of the lawsuit will find its way into the conversation.

Late last month, CBS Radio filed a lawsuit against its former shock jock, claiming Stern unfairly promoted Sirius while he was still on the air at CBS and, in the process, pocketed more than $200 million.

"This is a booking that has been planned by the show since January," CBS Entertainment spokesman Chris Ender told The TV Column.

"Obviously issues have arisen since then, but we respect the show's editorial independence and don't intend to censor their programming decisions."

Stern has been on "Late Show" 14 times -- most recently last November.

CBS claims Stern's deal with Sirius would give him 34 million shares of stock, valued at more than $200 million, if Sirius reached certain subscriber levels by a date this year. Stern fraudulently kept this secret while promoting Sirius on CBS Radio, CBS claims in its suit, which seeks undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages for breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment and misappropriation of CBS Radio broadcast time.

Stern moved to Sirius in January after signing a deal valued at $500 million in cash and stock.

* * *

Hey -- let's play Guess Which Network Had the Academy Awards This Past Sunday.

On Monday, ABC finished a distant fourth in the ratings, including a DOA debut for its medical reality series "Miracle Workers" at 10 that night.

CBS snagged the most viewers Monday night with its regular sitcoms-plus-"CSI: Miami" lineup.

Fox finished a strong second with two hours of "24" during which computer nerd Edgar Stiles got clocked by a Russian villain using nerve gas -- so retro.

Tuesday, ABC finished a distant third, including the anemic start for its comedy from Lorne Michaels called "Sons & Daughters." "American Idol" host Fox finished first. CBS came in second but scored a major ratings win with the launch of David Mamet's drama "The Unit" (aka President Palmer meets "The A-Team"). The Dennis Haysbert vehicle logged 18.5 million viewers to become the most watched premiere of any scripted show on any network this season. (A preview of CBS's freshman drama "Criminal Minds" snared 19.6 million viewers in the post-"CSI" time slot in September, but its official "premiere" the following Wednesday averaged only about 10.5 million.)

And yet, if you guessed "The Unit" launched so well because CBS promoted the heck out of it during its broadcast of the Academy Awards -- you've picked the wrong network.

ABC had the Oscars and promoted the heck out of "Miracle Workers" and "Sons & Daughters" during the 3 1/2 -hour broadcast, which averaged about 39 million viewers -- very few of whom bothered to check out either show over the next two nights. On Monday, "Miracle Workers" averaged 8.6 million viewers; Tuesday night "Sons & Daughters" attracted about 8 million.

"Too much has been made of the promotional platform of the Olympics, Super Bowl and the Oscars," noted one TV industry exec of the high-priced special events. "People come for those shows" but are not necessarily interested in anything else the network has to offer, he added.

The "track of launching shows out of these things is sketchy."

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