Last Debate Is Not a Winner, In the Ratings

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain drew nearly 60 million.
Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain drew nearly 60 million. (Pool Photo By Gary Hershorn -- Getty Images)
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By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, October 17, 2008

Nearly 60 million viewers watched the third and final -- and most contentious -- debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

Which, yes, means the faceoff you most wanted to see this election year was the one between vice presidential candidates Joseph Biden and Sarah Palin. It clocked more than 73 million viewers, and was the second-most-watched debate in U.S. history, presidential or vice presidential.

Wednesday's final debate, from Hofstra University, did not amass the 66 million viewers who watched the second debate. But that town-hall-style event was held just a week after the highly anticipated and much-watched veep faceoff and in the early electrifying days of the Wall Street meltdown.

The least-watched Republican vs. Democrat debate of this election was the first, which logged 55 million viewers.

Wednesday's debate, in which the two candidates for the first time sat spitting distance from each other, might have drawn a bigger crowd had it not run up against Fox's broadcast of a championship-deciding Game 5 between Los Angeles and Philadelphia -- those teams' cities being the country's second- and fourth-largest TV markets.

Though CBS News's Bob Schieffer moderated, CBS's coverage attracted the fewest viewers among the major broadcasters, 9.2 million. ABC logged 10.6 million; NBC led with 11.3 million.

Fox News Channel enjoyed its biggest debate crowd of this cycle, 9.1 million viewers. Another 8.9 million went with CNN and 3.7 million chose MSNBC.

The overall tally also includes Univision, CNBC, BBC America, MUN2, Telemundo and PBS. PBS estimates are not included in Nielsen's stats, but the public television network provides its own audience estimate.

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Major League Baseball has agreed to postpone the first pitch of Game 6 of the World Series (should the game be needed) by about 15 minutes to enable Fox to join CBS and NBC in running Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama 's 30-minute message to voters Oct. 29.

That leaves only ABC among the major broadcast networks still undecided as to whether it will let Obama's campaign buy the 8 p.m. half-hour slot on its prime-time schedule.

"Fox will accommodate Senator Obama's desire to communicate with voters in this long-form format," the network said in a statement. "If requested, the network would be willing to make similar time available to Senator McCain's campaign."

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