The TV Column: Lisa de Moraes on Letterman/Palin vs. Colbert

Stephen Colbert's Iraq campaign didn't pass ratings muster.
Stephen Colbert's Iraq campaign didn't pass ratings muster. (By Mike Glasch -- Comedy Central)
By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, June 19, 2009

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's war of words with CBS late-night host David Letterman proved very good for Letterman.

Unfortunately, that war appears to have taken away attention from Stephen Colbert's visit to American troops in Iraq.

Last week, Letterman fired the first shot when he delivered a gag on his June 8 show about the Palins attending a baseball game in N.Y.C. "There was one awkward moment during the seventh-inning stretch," Letterman said. "Her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."

On June 10, Palin and her husband, Todd, fired back with a pair of statements calling Letterman's comment a "joke about raping my 14-year-old" which was "despicable" and "sexually perverted."

That night Letterman told his studio audience he had been referring to the Palins' 18-year-old unwed-mom daughter, Bristol, not 14-year-old daughter Willow who, turns out, was the one who went to the Yankees game.

On June 11, Letterman joked that Palin was not mad at him anymore and had invited him to go hunting.

Palin was on NBC's "Today" show on June 12, dismissing Matt Lauer as "extremely naive" for believing Letterman when he said the joke had been about her older daughter and not about "statutory rape" of her younger daughter.

According to number-crunching monopoly Nielsen, which finally issued national stats for last week's late-night shows, the kerfuffle brought bigger crowds to Dave's show than to NBC's "Tonight Show," which was celebrating Conan O'Brien's second week as host, on three of the five week nights last week: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Dave did not win the week, but the brouhaha vaulted him into his closest competitive position to "The Tonight Show" since December 2005, when he kissed and made up with Oprah. Last week, only 100,000 viewers separated Conan from Dave: 3.7 million viewers and 3.8 million, respectively.

Conan lost a million "Tonight Show" viewers from the comparable week one year ago, when Jay Leno was hosting. Dave, meanwhile, gained about 100,000 viewers, year to year.

Demographically, it was a different story.

Conan attracted about 2 million coveted 18-to-49-year-old viewers last week. Letterman snagged only about 1 million in that age group. Here, Conan was up by about 200,000 people compared with Leno a year ago; Dave dropped by about 200,000.

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