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Colbert Fatigued, and Letterman's Ratings Don't Help

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.

Unfortunately, the Letterman-Palin kerfuffle seems to have taken attention away from Colbert's week-long visit to soldiers in Iraq, which reportedly had been conceived as a way to draw attention to the troops still overseas.

According to Nielsen, about 1.4 million people watched Colbert from Iraq last week. That is fewer viewers than he had the last time his show was live.

Colbert's visit to Iraq also seems to have sent some of his younger fans fleeing. The median age of his audience last week was 40. The same week a year ago, it was 33.9.

* * *

The infamous "apology" phone call between Evil Spencer Pratt and all-suffering Lauren Conrad on MTV's "reality" series "The Hills" was completely made up, Conrad told the stunned ladies of "The View" yesterday.

Yes, Spence actually did grovel on the phone for having spread rumors that Conrad was in a sex tape with her ex-boyfriend -- but Conrad was not on the other end of the call, she explained.

"Did you feel like it was a sincere apology when it came from him?" "The View" co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck had asked by way of kicking things off. (She was referring to the scene in the most recent season's penultimate episode, in which Spencer was on the phone begging Conrad's forgiveness for the whole sex-tape rumor thing -- a plotline that had consumed the show since its third season.)

Awkward silence.

"To be perfectly honest," Conrad said, after an eternity, "I wasn't on the other line of that call. . . . That was filmed and I wasn't on the other end."

Cue stunned gasps by the View-ettes.

"What do you mean!?" stammered Hasselbeck.

"He lied?!" exclaimed Sherri Shepherd.

"So the reality?" snickered Joy Behar.

"I didn't even know about" the apology, Conrad added, further shocking the View-ettes, who no doubt were flashing back to that Memorial Day episode in which Conrad was seen very convincingly turning down Pratt's apology and refusing to come to his wedding to fulfill the dreams of his fiancee and Conrad former BFF, Heidi.

Of course, "The Hills's" faux-reality has been well documented over the seasons, reports WaPo TeamTV's "The Hills" correspondent Emily Yahr.

A segment in which Conrad was seen with a manicure one second and without a mani a few seconds later, was dubbed Nail Polish-gate by bloggers, Yahr notes.

But even the jaded View-ettes were taken aback by the magnitude of the show's deception in the Phone Apology scene. They had a right to be upset; just four days earlier they had swallowed in one big gulp guest Spencer's brag that the phone apology had been insincere and that he'd only pretended to be contrite so that Conrad would come to the wedding. Nicely done, Spence!

* * *

TLC is teasing that Jon and Kate Gosselin are going to make a big announcement during a special one-hour episode of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" on Monday.

"Recently, we made some life-changing decisions . . . ," Kate's voice is heard saying in a promo running now on the cable network.

" . . . Decisions that will affect every member of our family . . . ," Kate continues as the words:

A family in turmoil

and

A relationship at a crossroads

flash across the screen, over video of Jon and Kate not looking at each other.

" . . . Ones that we hope will bring each of us some peace . . . ," Disembodied Kate Voice adds for good measure, while the words

Where do they go from here

scroll across video of Jon and Kate staring daggers at each other.

It's all a bit thick, but there's no sense being subtle when you're desperately trying to get people re-interested in what was supposed to be a documentary series about the challenges of parenting eight adorable moppets, but which in reality is a documentary about the pitfalls of being plucked from obscurity and put on a TV series if you have a none-too-solid marriage and the shared mental acuity of a peahen that had been dropped on its head as a chick.

Monday's announcement had better be a humdinger. Tawdry reports of Jon's and Kate's alleged infidelities drove nearly 10 million panting viewers to this season's debut, but people quickly lost interest and the most recent episode clocked under 3 million rubberneckers.

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