CBS Blackout Frustrates Artists Aiming for 'Letterman' Exposure

John Mayer, MGMT, John Legend affected by network's downtime in major cities

August 26, 2013 2:19 PM ET
John Mayer
John Mayer performs in Camden, New Jersey.
Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

For months, John Mayer's marketing people worked on scheduling a slot on CBS' Late Show With David Letterman timed to the release of his new album, Paradise Valley. And Mayer's August 19th version of the countryish "Wildfire" was one of those rare performances that seemed to move Dave himself: "Oh my God, nice going!" the host said afterwards. But CBS and Time Warner Cable are feuding, so TV audiences in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas missed the show. "I had to go to the taping," says Michael McDonald, Mayer's manager. "It was the only way I could see the show in New York!

See Behind the Scenes Photos of John Mayer Prepping for Letterman

"It's really, really unfortunate," he adds. "It sucks when things beyond your control really cut into your exposure. And you can't scramble and try to reschedule other opportunities on different networks, because they're all booked well in advance, just like CBS is."

The dispute between CBS and Time Warner over retransmission fees blacks out about 3.2 million viewers from watching CBS or Showtime programming — roughly 3 percent of homes with TVs. The network's national ratings haven't suffered much, but the dispute has devastated local news shows in New York, L.A. and elsewhere and disproportionately hurt musicians who've played Letterman and other CBS shows in the past few weeks, including Mayer, MGMT, John Legend and, coming up this week, singer-songwriter Laura Marling and slide-guitar hero Robert Randolph.

"New York and Los Angeles are obviously the media hubs — those are where you'd like to jump-start other media," says Peter Katsis, manager of the Backstreet Boys, who performed last week on CBS' The Talk. "You don't want to see the TV audience restricted in any way."

"It doesn't take much of a brain to know you'd rather have your music exposed to 10 million people than to 7 million," adds Bob Merlis, whose company handles public relations for Robert Randolph and the Family Band, scheduled to perform Tuesday on Letterman. "More is always better."

Like many in the TV industry, Katsis predicts the companies will resolve their dispute before the NFL returns September 8th. And for Letterman, The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson and other music-prominent CBS shows, the damage could have been worse — Ferguson had few musical guests and Letterman was mostly in reruns during August. But the dispute is still robbing performers of critical publicity. "In Backstreet's case, shows like The Talk reach their targeted audience. We come to depend on these shows for getting the word out," Katsis says. "We've actually used TV appearances to get the record going, whereas most people use the record to get the TV going."

Mayer's people have tried to make up for the viewer shortfall by pushing the Late Show clip online. "We did a 'Live On Letterman' online concert — hopefully we got some of that exposure back in those markets," McDonald says. "I guess I'm thankful that most of our other artists are playing Letterman after the NFL season starts."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Love Is the Answer”

Utopia | 1977

The message of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" proved to be a universal and long-lasting one, which Utopia revisited 10 years later on this ballad. "From a lyrical standpoint, it's part of a whole class of songs that I write, which are about filial love," Todd Rundgren explained. "I'm not a Christian, but it's called Christian love, the love that people are supposed to naturally feel because we are all of the same species. That may be mythical, but it's still a subject." Though "Love Is the Answer" wasn't a hit, a cover version two years later by England Dan & John Ford Coley peaked at Number Ten on the Billboard singles chart.

More Song Stories entries »