Scandal with David Letterman Has No Impact on Advertisers So Far

After a shocking confession about office love affairs and an alleged blackmail plot, David Letterman is winning back his fans’ respect with jokes (”I got into the car this morning and the navigation lady wasn’t speaking to me”) He also makes apologies, including one directly to his wife, Regina Lasko, and his staff, whom he thanked for "putting up with something stupid I’ve gotten myself involved in." According to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, that ‘’something stupid” came to light after Robert ”Joe” Halderman, a producer at CBS’ 48 Hours Mystery, threatened to expose Letterman’s sexual trysts with employees if the comedian didn’t fork over $2 million. Halderman pled not guilty on October 2, and is next due in court on November 11.

While the October 5th episode was up 14 percent in ratings from his season-to-date average, questions linger over whether CBS and Late Show’s production company, Worldwide Pants, should launch internal investigations into the comedian’s conduct. ”Clearly CBS has a moral and political obligation to investigate this,” says NOW president Terry O’Neill, who’s also a lawyer. But a Worldwide Pants spokesman says that the company circulates an employee manual each year that addresses harassment, while also saying, ”Dave is not in violation of our policy, and no one has ever raised a complaint against him.” In the meantime, Letterman has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to preempt the scandal by getting ahead of it, both by issuing his sincere mea culpas and by poking fun at his predicament. And so far, his survival strategy seems to be working. Says PR crisis expert Howard Bragman, ”He’s handling a bad situation as well as he can,” Entertainment Weekly reports.

In the meantime, one of the commercials that ran during the show on Tuesday night was from the Disney parks and resorts division of the Walt Disney Company.

If so squeaky clean a marketer seemingly has no qualms about wishing upon a star like Mr. Letterman after last week’s events, it is unlikely other advertisers would — barring, agency executives and media experts say, any disturbing or scandalous additional disclosures.

So long as viewers stick with Mr. Letterman, they believe, most if not all his sponsors will remain on board.

Steve Sternberg, a television analyst for media agencies like Magna, said it was unlikely that advertisers would withdraw from “Late Show With David Letterman” unless the news media “treat Letterman extremely negatively,” which they have not been doing so far.

Mr. Sternberg said, however, “if this remains in the headlines for several weeks, with more negative stuff coming out about Letterman, then I’d rethink the impact on advertisers,” The New York Times reports.

It was also reported, Halderman, who allegedly demanded $2 million in exchange for not making details of the affair public, was arrested last Thursday in Manhattan, hours before Letterman shocked his studio and TV audiences by revealing his past affairs with multiple "Late Show" staffers, and that he had been the victim of an extortion attempt.

Employment lawyer Louis Pechman, who is not connected with the case, said that if any Letterman staffers wanted to sue, they likely would have to limit their claim to him and Worldwide Pants.

"CBS would not be considered their employer, so [CBS is] basically immune from a lawsuit," Pechman said, New York Post reports.

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