'Late Show' ad rates soar to welcome back Dave

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Riding a wave of excitement surrounding its host's return tonight, CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" struck deals between $110,000 and $125,000 for some 30-second commercials--more than twice the going rate.

CBS never intended to sell Mr. Letterman's return as an special event, considering it sold most of its commercial inventory for the program during last year's upfront market. "Late Show" had been inking deals at $50,000 to $60,000 for a 30-second unit in the upfront, with normal scatter pricing a bit higher at $70,000.

Joe Abruzzese, president of advertising sales for CBS Television, would not disclose any commercial pricing. But Mr. Abruzzese said a number of movie studios bought time in the show, Mr. Letterman's first since having heart surgery in mid-January.

Movie companies typically buy TV advertising later in the week to capitalize on weekend moviegoing. But with the Oscar nominations announced last week, one contributor could be the fact that pre-Oscar campaigns are ramping up.


CBS is expecting a Nielsen 8.0 household rating, according to media executives, which would be more than double the show's season-to-date ratings (through Feb. 11) of 3.1/9.

Advertising agency executives anticipate the "Late Show" will receive a bump in ratings through the first couple of weeks following Mr. Letterman's return. The boost could not come at a better time, right in the middle of the February sweeps period. Local TV advertising rates are usually set during sweep periods.

Initially, Mr. Letterman will be working part time, only hosting two or three nights a week. Tonight's show, featuring guest Regis Philbin, was actually taped Feb. 18.

The week of Feb. 21, Bill Cosby will guest host on Tuesday, and Mr. Philbin will take a turn on Thursday. Julia Roberts will be a guest on Wednesday.

Mr. Letterman's surgery came a few days after he taped his second-highest-rated "Late Show" ever--scoring an 8.2/23--when first lady and U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton guested on Jan. 12.

For the first couple of weeks of his absence, CBS ran "Late Show" reruns. More recently, special interviews were packaged together under the "Late Night Backstage" banner, with revolving guest hosts such as Mr. Philbin; the show's music director, Paul Shaffer; and actor Charles Grodin.


Recent scatter prices for TV programming have been generally very strong, with networks grabbing big double-digit increases over upfront pricing. Mostly, limited network inventory has been available. But scatter inventory in "Late Show" has been easier to secure, according to one advertising executive. "It's the one area CBS could have been doing better," he said.

Copyright February 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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