Obama on Letterman Separates the Men (Letterman) from the Boys (O'Brien)

Last Updated Sep 17, 2009 11:48 AM EDT

So far my prediction hasn't come true that David Letterman's overall ratings lead in the late-night talk show wars would end the advertiser bias toward the 18-49 demographic, since Letterman's ratings lead over "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" is so significant. (O'Brien continues to lead in 18-49, but, really, who cares?) Therefore, it looks like, for now, we're going to have to leave the task of making sense of ratings wisdom to someone else -- like President Obama and his handlers. As part of a press tour about the healthcare plan (that so far is ignoring Fox), Obama will appear on "Late Night with David Letterman" (oops! I meant, "Late Show with David Letterman") on Monday night, as the sole guest. Although Letterman had both McCain and Obama on during the campaign, this is different. New. A sitting president, Letterman's first, for an entire hour -- and an affirmation of who the true late-night ratings leader is.

If the late night set up were the same this year as it was last year, it would have been at least a toss-up as to what program Obama would choose to appear on, and "The Tonight Show" would have been the likely winner, both because of its ratings and because of history; time was there was "The Tonight Show" -- and there was everyone else. But it looks like that historic advantage is slipping away -- the way things are today, it's nigh impossible to imagine Obama making such an appearance on "The Tonight Show." O'Brien, much as I love him, has neither the ratings nor the gravitas to make it work (a strange characteristic for a late-night talk show host, but Letterman has it).

The fly in the ointment above, as always, is Jay Leno. In his first two nights at the helm of his new 10 p.m. show, Leno has done better than expected. Even if his ratings decline significantly, they will still be bigger than Letterman's (or O'Brien's) simply because his show airs in primetime. To that extent, if Obama needs to reach out to a broadcast network talk show host six months from now, there's a strong likelihood that he'll sit with Leno, as he did only last May, when Leno was still at "Tonight." For now, however, Leno's primetime show is too new, and Letterman rules. May he enjoy every minute.

Previous coverage of Letterman, O'Brien and Leno at BNET Media: