Forget Conan's Numbers. We're Too Busy Keeping Score in the Palin-Letterman Match.

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, June 12, 2009

"CONAN THE NEW KING OF LATE NIGHT," NBC blared in a news release yesterday when the final numbers for Conan O'Brien's first week as host of "The Tonight Show" finally came in.

Sadly, NBC got drowned out by the media howling over Conan's late-night rival David Letterman, who on Wednesday night had thumbed his nose at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her crack about the "sexually perverted comments" (a.k.a. "jokes") he'd made on his show Monday night.

After lying low last week while Conan unveiled his version of "The Tonight Show," Letterman let loose this week with cracks about Palin's visit to his home town of New York City.

An "awkward moment" for Palin had occurred during her visit, Letterman said, when "her daughter was knocked up by [Yankees third baseman] Alex Rodriguez" during the seventh inning of the baseball game she and her family were attending.

Letterman did not specify which of Palin's daughters he had in mind. Palin's 18-year-old daughter, Bristol, is an unwed mother. But Palin implied she believed the reference was to her 14-year-old daughter, Willow, who was at the game with her parents, according to press reports.

Tuesday afternoon, Palin, as well as her husband, Todd, issued statements about the gag.

"Laughter incited by sexually-perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity aimed at a 14-year-old girl is not only disgusting, but it reminds us some Hollywood/NY entertainers have a long way to go in understanding what the rest of America understands -- that acceptance of inappropriate sexual comments about an underage girl, who could be anyone's daughter, contributes to the atrociously high rate of sexual exploitation of minors by older men who use and abuse others."

We'll give you a minute to reread that statement; it's pretty dense.

Anyway, the next night, Wednesday, Letterman rolled around in the Palins' reax like a pig in mud, making more national headlines in the process.

"I am not a celebrity," Letterman deadpanned. "I'm 62 years old, but I'm not a celebrity."

He called the joke "an act of desperation, to get laughs -- which is what I've been doing the last 30 years."

But, Dave pointed out, serious now, "these are not jokes made about her 14-year-old daughter. I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl."

While this riveting story was playing out on CBS, over at NBC, poor Conan -- New King of Late Night -- was making a plug for the upcoming season debut of NBC's "America's Got Talent," in the form of a faux PSA starring "Talent" judge David Hasselhoff, about the wrongness of "shark finning." Shark finning, best we can tell, appears to be the making of a kind of soup from shark fins, which is an East Asian delicacy.

Back to Dave:

"Here's where you draw the line," Letterman continued. ". . . The girl who actually -- excuse me, but was knocked up -- is now 18 years old. So the difference there is: 14 years old, and of legal age."

Letterman also had some fun with another joke he'd made Monday about Palin that had gotten the media's knickers in a bunch. That gag, part of the Monday night Top 10 list -- Highlights of Sarah Palin's Trip -- had Palin visiting Bloomies to buy makeup to freshen up her "slutty flight attendant look."

"The only thing I can say about this is: I kind of like that joke," Letterman told his studio audience Wednesday night.

But last night, Letterman found he had more to say.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 'Late Show' -- I'm Dave Letterman, making friends wherever I go," he said at the top of the show.

"Earlier in the week, I made some jokes that upset Sarah Palin, and I was telling jokes about her family and stuff. She got really upset, and I think everything's fine now. I think everything's going to be great because she called today and invited to take me hunting."

During Wednesday's broadcast, Letterman invited Palin and her husband back to New York City as his guests -- "or leave Todd at home" -- to appear on his show and put their differences behind them.

Yesterday, a Palin rep told Fox News Channel that the first couple of Alaska will not appear on his show because "it would be wise to keep Willow away from David Letterman" -- oh, snap! -- and also, they "have no intention of providing a ratings boost for David Letterman."

Too late!

* * *

Meanwhile, what of Conan? An average of more than 6 million people caught Conan's first week as host of "The Tonight Show" -- 3.1 million of whom were between the ages of 18 and 49, which is the demographic group NBC hopes to bag in bigger numbers now that Conan is the show's host.

Meanwhile, 3.5 million people watched Letterman last week, and 3.2 million went with ABC's "Nightline."

That's "Tonight Show's" biggest margin over a full week of Letterman original episodes in at least 17 years.

Even if you take out Conan's huge Monday premiere, which was watched by a whopping 9.2 million viewers, Conan still enjoyed "Tonight Show's" biggest win over Letterman in a decade.

"This is beyond our wildest expectations," NBC Entertainment's executive vice president of late night and prime-time series, Rick Ludwin, gushed in a statement.

* * *

As MTV started to make itself at home in our fair city by officially announcing its intention to begin production on "The Real World: D.C.," it forgot about one crucial step: meeting the neighbors.

MTV suits were a no-show at a Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting Wednesday night. Instead, area residents lobbed questions at various city officials, though the Q&A was made more difficult by small details, like the fact that no one could officially confirm where the show will be taping or when -- even though The Post's Reliable Source has reported the binge-drinking, friends-with-benefits HQ will be 2000 S St. NW. One rumor has the start date at June 20.

Instead, mayor's office representative Andrew Huff, D.C. film office director Kathy Hollinger and D.C. police Acting Lt. John McDonald fielded "Real World" questions, like "Where are we going to park?" and "What about the noise?" Turns out, four to six precious metered parking spaces will go to "Real World" crew, government reps told attendees -- some of whom spoke yesterday to The Post's Emily Yahr. And police officers are about to receive noise dosimeter training to prepare for possible violations, though McDonald told Yahr it's not specifically because of the "Real World" house moving in. Uh-huh.

A sort of Hatfields vs. McCoys thing is already brewing over Dupont Circle's new made-for-TV neighbors, including the creation of rival blogs: Anti-Real World D.C. and Pro Real World DC.

Said ANC Commissioner Jack Jacobson of "The Real World: D.C.": "It comes with a certain amount of heartache and heartburn, but it's a little bit of Hollywood right in our back yard."

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