TV Column: Fewer watched third debate than first two


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama debate Monday. (Eric Gay/AP)
October 23, 2012

As forecast, Monday’s third and final presidential debate attracted fewer viewers than did the previous two meetings of the candidates.

An estimated 59.2 million people tuned in for the final faceoff between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee. This election cycle’s first debate attracted 67 million people and the second, 66 million.

Still, Monday’s crowd had nearly 3 million more viewers than watched the third presidential debate in 2008. All three debates scored significantly larger audiences than did the ones four years ago.

Monday’s debate was pitted against two big sporting events, though, and everyone got bloodied in the ratings.

“Monday Night Football” on ESPN attracted an average of 10.7 million people — the franchise’s second-smallest crowd this season. And on Fox, Game 7 of the Major League Baseball National League Championship Series clocked 8.1 million — also on the low side.


Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is sacked by Detroit Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch in Monday’s game. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Fox News Channel, however, scored the biggest audience in its 16-year history — 11.5 million viewers — in covering Monday’s debate, as the Fox broadcast network bowed out to cover the baseball game.

The Fox broadcast network had carried the past two presidential debates and the veep debate, with Fox News Channel’s Shep Smith at the anchor desk.

NBC scored the largest audience: 12.4 million, followed by ABC’s 11.7 million. Although the debate, which focused on foreign policy, was moderated by CBS News’s Bob Schieffer, his network trailed with an audience of 8.4 million.

FNC’s previous best ratings performance was the 11.1 million it attracted for the 2008 vice presidential debate between then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and then-Sen. Joe Biden.

FNC might have gained some viewers Monday from MSNBC, which averaged 4.1 million debate watchers — down from the 4.9 million it drew for the second.

CNN was flat at 5.8 million viewers — meaning that FNC beat CNN and MSNBC combined.

Obama on MTV

With the clock ticking toward Election Day, Obama has agreed to sit for a live half-hour special on MTV on Friday — two days after he’s scheduled to be Jay Leno’s guest on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

Sway Calloway will host “Ask Obama Live: An MTV Interview With the President” at 5 p.m. from the White House. MTV’s Andrew Jenks will be posted at a Washington college with students who have questions.

West Coast viewers will see a tape-delayed telecast of the special, which also will be run on MTV2, mtvU, MTV Hits and MTV Jams, and MTV’s network Web site and mobile platform.

Obama is also in talks, as is Romney, about being interviewed on the eve of Election Day, during halftime of “Monday Night Football.”

Four years ago, Obama and his then-GOP rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, sat for separate interviews that ran during “Monday Night Football” halftime.

This year, the candidates had hoped to be interviewed on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which draws about twice as many viewers as does “MNF” on the cable network. But NBC ixnayed that, reports SportsBusiness Journal.

MTV has invited “the MTV audience” to submit questions for the president’s Friday special via the Viacom-owned network’s Facebook page and Twitter account. No word on how MTV will weed out questions from, say, 40-year-olds. Except maybe to toss all questions that aren’t about jobs, the cost of college, rising student-loan debt, such social issues as LGBTQ rights and immigration — because, MTV said in its announcement, those are the issues most on the minds of its target audience.

MTV noted that 45 million 18- to 29-year-olds are eligible to vote.

The network said that it has also invited Romney to participate in a live half-hour special and that it also hopes to conduct a sit-down interview with him in advance of Election Day.

MTV’s Obama special news comes one day after its cable cousin, the Viacom-owned Nickelodeon, declared Obama the winner of this year’s presidential race, as voted upon by Nick’s kid viewers. Obama won in a landslide, receiving 65 percent of the vote to Romney’s 35 percent.

Nickelodeon noted Monday that its Kids Pick the President vote has correctly named the winner in five of the past six elections.

Pickups galore

CBS has given full-season pickups to the two most-watched new series: The Dennis Quaid/Michael Chiklis-starring show “Vegas,” and the Jonny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu-starring show “Elementary.”

Although they don’t necessarily improve CBS’s standing in the Tuesday and Thursday 10 p.m. time slots, respectively, compared with last fall, both those dramas are winning their hours.

Plus, the ’60s-set “Vegas” (15 million-viewer average) is the country’s sixth-most-popular series this season, and “Elementary” (14 million), a Sherlock Holmes update, ranks No. 9.

It’s been a busy week for picking up TV series.

Fox ordered a third season of “X Factor,” Showtime ordered a third of “Homeland” and CW picked up the full season of the new drama “Arrow.”

Showtime ordered a 12-episode season of the Emmy-sweeping “Homeland” the morning after the second episode of Season 2 scored 1.75 million viewers — the biggest audience to date for any of its episodes’ premiere telecasts.

And CW’s “Arrow” is maybe the season’s most successful new-series launch.

About 4 million people caught the unveiling of the show, which is based on DC Comics’ Green Arrow — CW’s biggest crowd in three years.

In its second broadcast, “Arrow” held on to all its young-adult audience — a first for a drama launch this season.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost/
tvblog.

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