Alhough David Letterman deftly mixed jokes with sincere apologies during Monday's taping of his late-night talk show, the comedian's troubles stemming from an alleged extortion plot could just be beginning.
"I think the problem here for Letterman is the story is not over," Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz told "Good Morning America" today. ""I think this is going to continue to dribble out because there is a criminal case at the heart of it."
Despite a boost in ratings since the scandal broke out, Kurtz cautioned that viewership could trail off after the initial surge of interest dwindles.
"We're talking about sex with subordinates," he said, adding that Letterman can't afford to be seen as a "creepy old man." "Over time, this could chip away at Letterman's image, and he knows it."
Joe Halderman, 51, an Emmy-award winning producer for CBS News' "48 Hours," has pleaded not guilty to charges he tried to blackmail Letterman for $2 million. Halderman allegedly claimed he had evidence of the talk show host's sexual affairs with staff members.
Halderman's attorney, Gerald Sharge,l told "Good Morning America" Monday that he looked forward to cross-examine Letterman on the stand and that the alleged extortion plot was "preposterous."
But noted defense attorney Roy Black told "Good Morning America" today that the defense has a difficult task, as offering proof of Letterman's alleged sexual affairs may only strengthen the prosecution's case.
"The worse the secret is, the more it improves the offense," he said. "That's not a defense. It just helps prove the crime."
Letterman changed his mind about keeping Monday's show free of chatter about the scandal and used part of his monologue to apologize to his wife, Regina Lasko, the mother of his 6-year-old son.
"She has been horribly hurt by my behavior, and when something happens like that, if you hurt a person and it's your responsibility, you try to fix it," he said. "And at that point, there's only two things that can happen: either you're going to make some progress and get it fixed, or you're going to fall short and perhaps not get it fixed."
According to a source close to Letterman, the relationships Halderman was allegedly going to reveal occurred before Letterman's March 2009 marriage to Lasko.
Letterman also apologized to his staffers who have subsequently been put in an awkward spot.
"I'm terribly sorry that I put the staff in that position," he told the studio audience. "The staff here has been wonderfully supportive to me, not just through this furor, but through all the years that we've been on television and especially all the years here at CBS, so, again, my thanks to the staff for, once again, putting up with something stupid I've gotten myself involved in."
The audience seemed largely sympathetic Monday, laughing and applauding as he made jokes about how he spent his weekend, "raking his hate mail."
True to form, Letterman didn't let the opportunity pass to poke fun at himself.
"I would give anything to be hiking on the Appalachian Trail," he joked, in a reference to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, whose dramatic extramarital affair had been a previous prime target for Letterman.