The day after the elections, cable news networks were spinning just as madly as the two political parties -- maybe even more so.

Fox News Channel declared a major victory.

CNN declared one, too.

Even little MSNBC did a victory lap.

Between 8 p.m. Tuesday and 3 a.m. Wednesday, when most of the election action was taking place on television, Fox News Channel averaged 2.2 million viewers, outstripping CNN's 1.9 million and MSNBC's 745,000.

Now the spin:

Let's look back two years, as Fox News Channel is doing.

On Election Night 2000, CNN averaged a whopping 5.6 million viewers during those same hours. That means CNN dropped 66 percent this year, only to be outdone by MSNBC's free fall from the 2.6 million it averaged in '00. FNC, however, is up 16 percent from its 1.9 million in 2000. You can see why FNC prefers this comparison.

CNN and MSNBC would prefer we look at the last midterm election, in 1998.

Yes, FNC is up here, too -- a hefty 524 percent from its paltry average then of 351,000 viewers. But CNN is up, too, about 17 percent from the 1.6 million it averaged that November night in '98, and MSNBC is up about 95 percent from its 383,000 viewer average in 1998.

However, all three networks' universes were substantially smaller in '98. FNC reached only about 35 million homes then and reaches 81 million today. CNN, in 75 million homes in '98, now hits nearly 87 million. And MSNBC has jumped from 45 million homes to nearly 78 million.

Of course, these numbers are test patterns compared with the throngs that tuned in to the broadcast networks to check out election results, or lack thereof, from 10 to 11 p.m.

Just as Voter News Service had on Tuesday, Nielsen Media Research yesterday collapsed trying to crunch all the numbers, so final stats on the broadcast news divisions performances won't be in until today.

But preliminary figures have Tom Brokaw and NBC out in front with about 9.5 million viewers.

CBS and Dan Rather clocked about 9 million in the early results, and ABC and Peter Jennings trailed with 7.5 million.

Locally, WUSA (Channel 9) won the 11 p.m. election coverage race Tuesday averaging nearly 180,000 households for its newscast. The station did get some help from its lead-in: Nearly 192,000 Washington-area homes tuned in to CBS's election coverage at 10 p.m.

And another 25,000 households caught the WUSA news team on MPT from 8 to 11 p.m., which is double the audience the public broadcasting station averaged on a weeknight last month, for instance. In the Baltimore market, 35,000 households watched MPT for the Channel 9-produced coverage.

WUSA's closest competitor at 11 p.m. was WRC. The NBC station managed 123,000 households, even though Tom Brokaw's coverage provided Channel 4 with only 94,000 households from 10 to 11 p.m.

WJLA's 11 o'clock news averaged 89,000 households; Peter Jennings had handed it a lead-in of 109,000. Numbers for WJLA's cable cousin NewsChannel 8 were not available at press time.

WTTG's 10 o'clock news was actually the runner-up in the Election Night local news race, with its audience of 145,000 homes. Channel 5 kept going with news from 11 p.m. until about 11:40 p.m., but only 55,000 homes stuck with it.

It was still WUSA's race in the stretch. From 11:30 to midnight, Channel 9 averaged 106,000 households, ahead of WRC's 92,000 and WJLA's 70,000.

BET's entertainment programming chief, Curtis Gadson, is leaving the network.

Gadson, who had been overseeing all of BET's prime-time programming, is based in Burbank. BET now plans to centralize more programming production in New York, BET President and COO Debra Lee said in a statement confirming Gadson's decision to bow out. BET already produces its music and news programming in New York.

Additionally, the Viacom-owned network will increasingly focus on syndicated programming for its lineup, Lee said.

No replacement was named; BET said the entertainment division would be run by Stephen Hill, vice president for music programming; Gina Holland, VP for news operations; and Jacque Coleman, VP for sports and specials.

Preliminary figures from Nielsen Media Research have NBC's Tom Brokaw (right, with Tim Russert) out in front with about 9.5 million viewers.