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‘Late Show’ scores ratings victory vs. Leno

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NEW YORK — David Letterman can recuperate with a smile: He just scored his first weekly ratings victory against Jay Leno in nearly five years.

The CBS "Late Show" host underwent emergency heart surgery on Jan. 14, two days after his much-anticipated interview with Hillary Rodham Clinton. The show earned Letterman his biggest audience since 1994.

The show may bring in guest hosts during Letterman's absence, said executive producer Rob Burnett. Already, he's been flooded with offers from people including Howard Stern and Regis Philbin, to whom Letterman revealed his heart problems on the air last week.

"We have a million ideas," Burnett said.

Letterman hadn't beaten Leno, host of NBC's "Tonight Show," in the ratings with first-run programming since the week of May 22, 1995. Letterman's average audience last week was 5.9 million to Leno's 5.8 million.

The victory was driven almost entirely by the first lady's appearance, which drew 11.2 million viewers.

Letterman's staff made a special point of noting that Hillary Clinton's guest shot drew higher ratings than Leno's first post-arrest interview with actor Hugh Grant. The 1995 Grant interview cemented NBC's late-night dominance for the last half of the 1990s.

At first, CBS said it would run "Late Show" reruns during Letterman's absence. That's what the network has done this week, and next week the show airs the best of its "on the road" broadcasts from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, London and Indianapolis.

After that, Burnett said CBS is considering several options, including more reruns, guest hosts and a mix of repeats with some live celebrity cameos.