NEW YORK — If the line of ticket holders Monday stretching around the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway and down 54th Street was any indication, hey, David Letterman: You are getting a pass.
There they were -- tourists from Tulsa, Okla.; Baltimore; Phoenix; Centerville, Ohio; and even one jaded New Yorker -- all atwitter because they'd lucked out and gotten tickets to the first taping of "The Late Show With David Letterman" since its host admitted on the air Thursday to having had sex with female employees. (The Friday show was also taped Thursday.)
"Whaddya think of Dave now?" a tabloid TV reporter, who'd been waiting in front of the theater since 6 a.m., repeatedly asked ticket holders. "Is he a bad guy?"
Mostly, these fans were prepared to put aside Letterman's indiscretions, even if a few of the women said they were disappointed that Mr. Nice Guy could also be Mr. "Creepy," as Letterman characterized his own behavior.
"It's not like some big shock and surprise," said Kevin Hansen, a 36-year-old marketing manager from Tulsa who explained "this whole nonsense" to his wife, Stephanie, by pointing to the theater marquee: "His name is up there. He's famous. He's powerful. Oh, yeah, he's human."
Stephanie Hansen, 36, pulled her green sweater tightly around her against the chilly New York wind, and nodded in agreement. She also quietly inquired, "Is [Letterman] in a committed relationship? I missed that detail."
In fact, since Letterman revealed he'd been the victim of an alleged $2-million extortion attempt by a CBS employee over the affairs, a spokesman for his production company had taken great pains to stress that those relationships occurred before he was married last March to his longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko, with whom he has a 5-year-old son.
Stephanie Hansen's reaction to that detail? "Boys will be boys," she said, smiling.
A run of scandals
But Peggy Coale, who had come to New York from Centerville, Ohio, with her husband, Scott, to celebrate their 50th birthdays and 25th wedding anniversary, was a little surprised that Letterman was "just like the rest of them.
"He seemed like a real decent, gentlemanly guy," said Coale. "I suppose I'm just naive, but he'd had such fun with Bill Clinton [about the former president's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky] that this at first rubbed me wrong.
"But is it hypocritical that I'm excited to be here to take free tickets to the show?" Coale added. "Yeah, I guess so."
A lot of people seemed fed up, if not bored, by another scandal.
They referred to the media's relentless focus on Clinton's extramarital affairs and to the more recent womanizing-in-the-news by Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and U.S. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, not to mention the declaration by Mackenzie Phillips that she had a 10-year sexual relationship with her father, John Phillips, of the Mamas and the Papas.
"Bllllllleeech," said Bob Millhand, 58, trying to make as disgusting a sound as he could. "No more about Dave, please spare us more!"
For two years, this Manhattan salesman has come through Times Square on business, passing the Ed Sullivan Theater almost every day.
"Finally, I take a day off to see one of my favorite shows -- and now this?" he said. "Don't get me wrong: It's exciting with all the paparazzi around. And I still love this guy. But I'm just sick of celebrities' sex lives. And the politicians? Just fix the country! Just make me laugh!"
Millhand lapsed into full-throttle New York shtick, throwing his arms in the air and pointing at a billboard across Broadway for CBS' "The Good Wife," a new legal drama inspired by real-life political sex scandals. "Enough!" he bellowed as he walked into the theater.
But Emily Penunuri, a 26-year-old die-hard Letterman fan from Phoenix, couldn't get enough. After the taping, she said she was delighted that though Letterman had said he'd have no more to say about his personal life he mentioned it in his monologue, apologizing to his staff and family for any pain he caused them, and making fun of himself for making fun of politicians such as Clinton and Sanford.
She said Letterman also joked at his own expense how this was "phase one" of this episode and that during phase two he'd be on Oprah Winfrey's show, crying.
"He was so funny but he also seemed so sincere," said Penunuri. "I still think he's handling everything really, really well."
So all is forgiven?
"Well, I don't condone cheating," said Penunuri, who has been a Letterman fan since she was 10.
"But at least he doesn't act like he didn't do anything wrong."
And, she was touched by his earnest tone Monday as he stood alone on the stage in a dark blue suit.
"I do think it will be a long time before anyone forgets this," she said. "But I'm ready to move on."