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‘Late Show’ Host Letterman Returns to High Ratings
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Comedian David Letterman received a big welcome back to the CBS “Late Show” from a monthlong illness, scoring his second-highest ratings this season and his biggest victory over NBC late-night rival Jay Leno in three years.
And Letterman said he owes his recovery to duct tape.
According to preliminary Nielsen Media Research figures from the nation’s 55 largest media markets, Letterman’s return on Monday night posted a 5.3 rating, his highest rating since self-help guru Dr. Phil McGraw appeared on the show Feb. 17.
It was only the second time this season (Dr. Phil’s visit was the first), that Letterman bested NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in overall ratings. And it marked the steepest percentage gain (23 percent) over Leno since Letterman returned to the program in February 2000 following open-heart surgery.
The 55-year-old star of the “Late Show with David Letterman” last hosted his own show on Feb. 25 of this year, when he complained on the air about the visible inflammation of his right eye, which turned out to have been caused by shingles, a viral infection related to chickenpox.
Insiders said swelling around Letterman’s eye cleared up relatively soon, but lingering pain associated with the infection is what kept him away for so long.
Joking about the duration of the illness Monday night, Letterman alluded to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s insistence that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was proceeding according to plans.
“Thirty days it took me to get over the shingles. And according to Donald Rumsfeld, that’s right on schedule,” Letterman said.
Then, in a reference to supplies the U.S. government suggested Americans have on hand in the event of a biological or chemical weapons attack, he added: “You know what cleared this up? Duct tape.”
Letterman’s guests Monday night included actor-comedian Billy Crystal, who traded barbs with the host about his own past experience with shingles, and 18-year-old world whistling champion Michael Barimo.
During Letterman’s absence, a parade of celebrities filled in for him as guest host, including actor Bruce Willis, tennis star John McEnroe and TV personality Regis Philbin. Before a heart operation took him off air in January 2000, Letterman had never missed an appearance in his more than 20 years of late-night television.