If David Letterman hoped a deal with striking writers would help him in his battle for late-night supremacy with Jay Leno, it hasn’t happened yet.
Leno’s NBC “Tonight” show averaged 5.17 million viewers last week, despite its writers being on strike and big-name celebrities being encouraged not to cross the picket line.
Letterman, who made a separate deal to bring writers back to his CBS “Late Show,” had 4.08 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Leno has a 27 percent advantage over Letterman, compared to 33 percent prior to the writers going on strike.
Leno’s victory margin of nearly 1 million viewers comes despite Letterman actually winning last Monday, when Tom Hanks visited to watch Letterman shave the beard he grew during two months off the air.
Besides Hanks, Letterman had Mike Huckabee, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, Tom Brokaw, Howard Stern and Tracy Morgan as guests last week. Leno had Pamela Anderson, Ron Paul, Christopher Titus, reptile expert Jules Sylvester and fellow late-night host Jimmy Kimmel stop by.
Letterman is having another run of A-listers this week, including Katie Holmes, Denzel Washington, Don Rickles, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone and Diane Keaton. National ratings for this week’s shows were not immediately available.
CBS said one positive sign is that Letterman has beaten Leno in the New York market nine times in his first 11 shows back. In the 30 shows prior to the strike, Letterman won 12 times, Nielsen said.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Writers Guild of America said Thursday the organization hasn’t decided about whether to bring up Leno on disciplinary charges. The union contends that Leno is breaking their strike rules by writing his own nightly monologue. Leno said the union is wrong.
Craig Ferguson’s “Late Late Show,” which shares Letterman’s production company and also has its writers back, inched closer to NBC rival Conan O’Brien. O’Brien’s NBC show averaged 2.07 million viewers before the strike, and 1.99 million last week. Ferguson was at 1.75 million before the strike, and 1.84 million last week.