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TV Column
Posted at 01:18 PM ET, 11/07/2012

NBC led election night coverage ratings-wise, but ABC’s getting all the tweets


Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos during ABC's election night coverage. (ABC)

More people turned to NBC News on election night than any other TV network news source, Nielsen said Wednesday. About 12.1 million got their election night news from NBC in primetime, Nielsen said, though numbers are subject to final tinkering which won’t happen until Thurdsay.

NBC beat Fox News Channel, which averaged 11.5 million viewers — its biggest ever primetime audience.

ABC finished third, with 10.5 million viewers.

That’d make CNN’s 9.3 million look pretty good — beating the 7.9 million viewers assigned to CBS, and the just shy of 5 million scored by Fox broadcast network.

And, in a major ratings development, CNN discovered it eked out a bigger audience than did Fox News Channel Tuesday from 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, when the polls closed on the east coast, until 2 a.m. ET when Obama finished delivering his speech. CNN logged an estimated 8.8 million viewers, compared to FNC’s 8.7 million (and MSNBC’s 4.6 mil).

Overall, Nielsen says, 66.8 million people watched election coverage Tuesday night — down from 71.5 million in ‘08.

But it’s not the TV networks’ numbers people are going to be talking about for the rest of the week — it’s the crazy coverage of election night across the TV networks, in comparison to which Comedy Central’s election night anchors Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert looked like Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

FNC, for instance, was the place to go if you wanted to watch political contributor Karl Rove try to hijack a network and get it to un-declare Ohio for Obama, around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

When the FNC decision desk stood its ground, senior producers thought of having two members of the number crunching team go on-camera with Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier to discuss. Then someone had a better idea, and told Kelly to walk back to the room where the number crunchers were holed up, with camera in tow, and do the interview — because, New York Magazine reported an FNC “insider” told them, “This is Fox News…so anytime there’s a chance to show off Megyn Kelly’s legs they’ll go for it.”

So Kelly did.

And the number crunchers stood by their call.

And they were right.

In marked contrast, when ABC News analyst Matt Dowd brought that network’s election night coverage to its grinding halt, by stating — twice — that this “may be the last election that we see two white men run against each other for president,” ABC election coverage co-anchor George Stephanopoulos opted, after a bit of nervous laughter and crosstalk was heard, to not address the jaw-dropping remark.

“Matt, I’m going to save you for a sec and go to Jake Tapper in Chicago.”

Tapper, to his credit, took a moment from inside Obama headquarters in Chicago to say, “I just want to make sure that everybody is clear on the fact that Barack Obama is not white. Has that been established?…I have this breaking news flash: Barack Obama is African American. If somebody could tell Matt, that’d be great.”

How lucky for Dowd, his gaffe got lost in the excitement over Diane Sawyer’s election-night co-anchoring for ABC, which was trending on Twitter that night.

Actually, to be perfectly accurate, what was trending was speculation as to whether Sawyer was hammered. Someone even created a @DrnkDianeSawyer Twitter account.

“Four more beers! Four more beers! The debate over whether Diane Sawyer was drunk last night is high-larious,” tweeted one viewer.

“And Diane Sawyer declares tonight’s winner is…chardonnay!” chimed in another.

Of course some of the tweets were coming from Sawyer’s competitors:

“ABC Diane Sawyer drunk during election coverage?” tweeted Fox News.

“Diane Sawyer — Drunk, Tired or Flustered?” faux-questioned TMZ. (TMZ star Harvey Levin also tweeted: “When I watched Diane Sawyer last night something seemed off…couldn’t put my finger on it. But watching this AM, toasted!”)

“’Drunk’ Diane Sawyer election coverage becomes Twitter hit,” tweeted CTV News.

But not just competitors were left scratching their chins over Sawyer pixilated performance on election night. She appeared to slur some words, and called Josh Elliott by the name Josh Edwards. When numbers from Minnesota came in, Sawyer said, “We’re ready to project Minnesota…Tonight we know, President Barack Orama — Obama — has won Minnesota.”

Around 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, Sawyer asked Tapper: “At one point, president Obama’s campaign put an exclamation point after [campaign slogan] ‘Forward.’ It was just ‘Forward,’ and then it had an exclamation point. When did they decide that was the right message for them?”

Tapper and David Muir, at Romney headquarters in Boston, both seemed to smirk and try not to smile in split-screen.

“Well, they went back and forth about a lot of different messages. And they ultimately decided ‘Forward.’ And then there was some criticism that ‘Forward’ with just a period was not really conveying the kind of ‘Forward’ that they wanted. So the exclamation point was added,” Tapper explained.

Then, trying carefully to segue back to the election night results, he added, “I should say that we’re having somewhat of an exclamation point here this evening. The crowd is really jubilant.”

Sawyer kinda/sorta acknowledged the tweeting about her Tuesday coverage in a tweet of her own, saying that during the network’s power outage that night, “Read your tweets the good, bad, and the funny. See you on @ABCWorldNews.” But she did not address her election night behavior on Wednesday’s newscast.

And ABC News kinda/sorta did some damage control Wednesday morning when it emailed reporters a review of election night coverage, for the Chicago Sun-Times, from former Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales, who gave both ABC News co-anchors high marks:

“ABC’s George Stephanopoulos truly ascended to the very first rank of TV anchors, the potential to be the Walter Cronkite of the twenty-teens,” Shales wrote, referring to Stephanopoulos’ co-anchor as, “the indefatigable if sometimes overly thrilled Diane Sawyer, whose energy is awe-inspiring, though there sometimes seems to be way too much air around her words and coming out of her ears.”

But, for network internecine madness, nothing beat NBC on election night. Not long after midnight, anchor Brian Williams began to note the election-night tweeting of NBC “The Apprentice/Celebrity Apprentice” star (and real estate mogul) Donald Trump, which, Williams said, was attracting attention.

“It’s out there and getting an airing tonight — you might as well know about it: Donald Trump, who has driven well past the last exit to relevance and something closer to irresponsible here, is tweeting tonight,” Williams began resignedly.

Williams read “a sampling” of Trump’s tweets:

More votes equals a loss...Revolution!

This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!

…disgusting injustice. The world is laughing at us!

“And so on. So there you have it — THAT happened,” Williams concluded, with a sigh.

Some of Trump’s tweets were deleted, at some point.

Wednesday, Trump responded to Williams, via Twitter:

Brian — Thanks dummy — I picked up 70,000 twitter followers yesterday alone. Cable News just passed you in the ratings.

Brian, I hope @NBCNightlyNews isn’t paying you too much — look at what’s happening to nightly news.

The only thing more boring than @bwilliams newscast is his show Rock Center which is totally dying in the ratings — a disaster!

and

@bwilliams — wouldn’t you love to have my ratings?

That’s a lot of buckshot Trump fired. Let’s deconstruct:

Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” has not aired yet this season. Last season, it averaged about 7.3 million viewers, compared to “Rock Center’s” nearly 4 million.

Trump wins.

Among 25-54 year olds who are the currency of news programming “Celebrity Apprentice” logged about 3.9 million, to “Rock Center’s ” 1.5 million.

Trump wins again.

Among 18-49 year olds, who are the currency of entertainment programming, “Celebrity Apprentice” clocked about 3.2 million, compared to “RC’s” 1.2 million.

Trump wins again.

Trump’s show also has been one of the more upscale on TV. Last season “Celebrity Apprentice” was the No. 17 ranked most upscale broadcast show overall, in concentration of 18-49 year olds in homes with incomes of $100K or more. In that group, it indexes a 139 — the higher the better when it comes to indexing.

“Rock Center,” meanwhile, ranked No. 33.

Trump wins — again. That said, this season to date, “Rock Center is ranked No. 15 — and now also is indexing at 139. This increase is due in part to the show’s move to Thursday night, which puts it on the air after NBC’s Thursday comedies, which are among the most upscale shows on television.

Oh, and Williams’ evening newscast, is averaging 7.7 million viewers — down about 5 percent compared to last year, but ahead of cable news network programs. For comparison sake, FNC’s Bill O’Reilly program, arguably the most successful cable news program, is averaging around 4 million viewers.

By  |  01:18 PM ET, 11/07/2012

 
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