Mostly True
O'Reilly
"When I go on Letterman" the "ratings go up."

Bill O'Reilly on Sunday, October 12th, 2014 in an interview with Howard Kurtz

Bill O'Reilly says David Letterman's 'Late Show' ratings shoot up when he's a guest

Bill O'Reilly says David Letterman's "Late Show" gets a ratings boost when O'Reilly is a guest. Screenshot of CBS video.

You probably wouldn’t describe Bill O’Reilly as humble. The Fox News personality is currently on a publicity tour for his new book Killing Patton, the fourth installment in the Fox host’s nonfiction Killing series.

Speaking on Fox News’ Media Buzz, O’Reilly crowed about his ability to draw large television audiences.

Kurtz asked O’Reilly if he was ready to stop referring to himself as a "lonely outsider" since he’s appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman and chatting with mainstream news hosts like Katie Couric of Yahoo! News and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Is he one of them now?

"It’s not a matter of being accepted, it’s about success," O’Reilly explained. "And I bring ratings to those shows. So when I go on Letterman or I go on the morning shows, their ratings go up. That's why they have me on."

Because we were curious, we wondered about O’Reilly’s rating power when he appears on other shows. We focused on Letterman’s Late Show to make the exercise more manageable.

We found 15 O’Reilly Late Show appearances since 2001 using the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and searching transcripts. We then pulled data for the number of estimated viewers for those shows from Nielsen Media Research, a company that tracks consumers patterns and TV viewership.

We measured the number of viewers who watched O’Reilly’s appearances against the average of viewers who watched the same day of the week that season, as well as against the Late Show’s annual calendar average.

A couple of quirks about the data: CBS provided Nielsen data for average weekday viewers in terms of broadcast years, which run from September to September and include repeat shows. Nielsen provided average viewers for the calendar year, excluding specials and repeats. The show is on five nights a week, including repeats, so we don’t think it’s a huge matter.

Also, some ratings for 2014 are not available because Nielsen is still re-evaluating its data following a reporting error for broadcast networks from the last seven months.

In the chart below, we shaded appearances in which O’Reilly’s ratings outnumbered either the weekday average for the season or the annual average. As you’ll see, O’Reilly is largely correct: He usually beats the seasonal weekday average of viewers as well as the calendar year average.

Date of O’Reilly on Late Show

Day of the week

O’Reilly viewers

Season

Weekday average for season

Annual average of viewers

Feb. 23, 2001

Friday

4.80 million

2000-01

4.26 million

4.27 million

Oct. 5, 2004

Tuesday

3.51 million

2004-05

3.85 million

4.45 million

Jan. 3, 2006

Tuesday

4.39 million

2005-06

3.63 million

4.16 million

Oct. 27, 2006

Friday

4.79 million

2006-07

3.83 million

4.16 million

Oct. 27, 2008

Monday

3.77 million

2008-09

3.79 million

3.63 million

March 31, 2009

Tuesday

4.06 million

2008-09

3.66 million

3.80 million

Dec. 9, 2010

Wednesday

4.08 million

2010-11

3.29 million

3.55 million

Oct. 13, 2011

Thursday

3.43 million

2011-12

3.06 million

3.34 million

May 23, 2012

Wednesday

2.82 million

2011-12

3.03 million

2.95 million

Oct. 24, 2012

Wednesday

3.48 million

2012-13

2.98 million

2.95 million

Feb. 11, 2013

Monday

3.07 million

2012-13

2.82 million

2.90 million

June 17, 2013

Monday

2.62 million

2012-13

2.82 million

2.90 million

Oct. 16, 2013

Wednesday

3.28 million

2013-14

2.76 million

2.90 million

March 14, 2014

Friday

n/a

2013-14

2.83 million

n/a

Oct. 1, 2014

Wednesday

2.69 million

2014-15

2.57 million

n/a

Of 14 appearances with data since 2001, Late Show episodes featuring O’Reilly outperformed the average number of viewers by both measures 10 times.

An 11th appearance, on Oct. 27, 2008, drew about 140,000 more viewers than the calendar year average but about 20,000 fewer than the Monday average during the 2008-09 season.

Put another way, the shows in which O’Reilly touted a recent book or offered political commentary exceeded the show’s weekday and calendar year average 70 percent of the time.

CBS would not comment on whether it invites O’Reilly to boost ratings.

Our ruling

In a trademark moment of non-modesty, O’Reilly bragged about his effect as a guest star on mainstream broadcast shows.

"I bring ratings to those shows. So when I go on Letterman or I go on the morning shows, their ratings go up," he said.

Looking strictly at Letterman’s Late Show, to keep things simple, we found he has a point. Using available data, we found O’Reilly beat the average ratings for the comparable day of the week and calendar year 10 or 11 times out of 14 show appearances with data.

In this specific case, booking O’Reilly isn’t a sure bet for better ratings. But it’s a pretty safe one. We rate his claim Mostly True.