A record number of voters may have turned out for the presidential election Tuesday, but they didn't translate to record audiences for the broadcast networks' election night coverage.
On the other hand, Tuesday was a very good night for Fox News Channel, which logged its biggest prime-time audience ever.
Collectively, the broadcast networks fumbled about 8 million of the viewers who had watched their prime time on election night in 2000. Ironically, the only broadcast network that can boast an increase is Fox, which doesn't even have a news division. Fox broadcast network clocked an average of 4.7 million viewers from 8 to 10 p.m. Tuesday with election coverage provided by Fox News Channel and helmed by Shepard Smith. (Fox News Channel's own coverage was helmed by Brit Hume.)
An average of 15.2 million people watched Tom Brokaw's last presidential election in the NBC anchor chair during prime time, Nielsen Media Research reports. In 2000, NBC had averaged more than 18 million viewers in prime time on election night.
Another 9.5 million prime-time viewers watched what might just turn out to be Dan Rather's last presidential election in the CBS anchor chair -- depending on how that independent investigation into the botched "60 Minutes" story shakes out. Four years ago, CBS News nabbed 13 million viewers with its prime-time coverage of the Bush-Gore voting debacle.
An unsentimental 13.2 million chose neither Brokaw nor Rather this time around, instead getting their prime-time election information from ABC's Peter Jennings. Four years ago, his prime-time tally was 14.7 million.
Much, but not all, of the slack was taken up by Fox News Channel, which averaged a prime-time 8.05 million viewers Tuesday. That's a whopping 235 percent more than the 2.4 million who had come to its coverage in prime time in 2000.
Tuesday's audience was in fact FNC's biggest prime-time crowd ever, beating the previous record of 7.5 million people who had tuned in Sept. 30 for coverage of the first presidential debate.
This past Tuesday, CNN copped an average of 6.2 million viewers in prime time. That's up 7 percent from '00, when CNN had trounced FNC with an average of 5.8 million viewers.
MSNBC managed to stay on par with its '00 performance, averaging a prime-time 2.8 million viewers compared to just under 3 million four years ago.
Meanwhile, about 2 million got their election update on Comedy Central from 10 to 11 Tuesday night.
"Election Night 2004: Prelude to a Recount" was the Comedy Central show's second most watched telecast ever, behind only its live telecast of Sept. 30, following the first presidential debate, when 2.4 million tuned in.
Comedy Central was not the only youth-seeking cable network offering election coverage Tuesday night. From 11 to midnight, MTV ran something called "Choose or Lose: Election Night Wrap Up" (apparently the MTV suits who came up with that name weren't born in 2000). It featured periodic reports on how the election was going, by P. Puff Diddy Daddy, who had launched his much-hyped "Vote or Die!" youth voter registration/clothing line campaign in July.
During the first half-hour of "Wrap Up," when P. Puff Diddy Daddy reported of the election results that "It's as tight as a frog's [heinie] out there, do you hear me! It's coming down to the wire, baby!" an average of 786,000 viewers were glued to the show.
By the second half-hour, when PPDD returned to report that the race continued to be "as tight as a frog's [heinie]," only 564,000 were still watching.
But over the previous four weeks, MTV nailed more than 1 million viewers in that exact same time slot with a mixed bag of programs including the Nick and Jessica show, "Road Rules," "Real World" and "Battle for Ozzfest." No wonder that, according to exit polling, only the same small sliver of the 18-to-24 population chose "Vote" on Tuesday; the rest, presumably, decided to take their chances with "or Die!"