Mariah Carey has hired extra security and “doesn’t feel comfortable” at the “American Idol” auditions after show staffers told her that fellow judge Nicki Minaj muttered, “If I had a gun, I would shoot the [woman].” (Evan Agostini/INVISION/AP)

More than 67 million people watched the first presidential debate of this election cycle — nearly 15 million more than watched the first presidential debate four years ago.

That 67 million, however, falls very short of the Mother of All Presidential Debates: the Oct. 28, 1980, smackdown between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald “There You Go, Again” Reagan, which drew a whopping 81 million viewers.

About 12 million of the 67 mil who watched President Obama square off against GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Wednesday evening at the University of Denver were ages 18 to 34, and nearly 31 million of them were 55 years or older, Nielsen reported Thursday.

The debate was carried live across 11 networks; Telemundo aired it on tape-delay.

In a tight race at the top, ABC appears to have snagged the most viewers for the election cycle’s first presidential debate — as it did four years ago. About 11.25 million people watched Romney vow to axe Big Bird (and PBS funding) on ABC.

Fox News Channel appears to have attracted the largest audience for the first presidential debate of this election cycle. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

That’s up a tick from four years ago, when 11 million people watched Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama in their first face-off, which — like Wednesday’s debate — was moderated by PBS’s Jim Lehrer. Lehrer got better reviews in ’08.

This time, ABC was closely followed by NBC, which had about 11.1 million viewers — up a lot from its 7.1 million of four years ago.

CBS snagged 10.6 million viewers, compared with 7.6 million in 2008.

Fox News Channel averaged 10.436 million viewers — also a big improvement over 8.2 million four years ago. CNN clocked about 6.1 million viewers — a 1 million viewer drop from ’08 but still strong enough to beat MSNBC’s average of 4.7 million.

MSNBC showed growth, however, having averaged 3.9 million for the first presidential debate of 2008. But not as much growth as the Fox broadcast network, which is not known for carrying news programming of any kind. (Fox’s debate coverage was anchored by Shep Smith, who had also anchored its coverage in ’08.)

This time, Fox scored nearly 7 million viewers — almost 3 million better than four years back. Notice how the Fox broadcast network — home of “New Girl,” “Family Guy” and “X Factor” — beat cable news networks MSNBC and CNN?

Carey vs. Minaj 2.0

Mariah Carey says she has hired extra security and “doesn’t feel comfortable” at the “American Idol” auditions after show staffers told her that fellow judge Nicki Minaj muttered, “If I had a gun, I would shoot the [woman],” after the two divas argued, Barbara Walters reports.

Just when you didn’t think this melodrama/stunt between the two music stars, who’ve been hired to jack up the ratings on Fox’s singing competition series, couldn’t get any better, in steps Babs and “The View.”

“Nicki is unpredictable, and Mariah says she can’t take a chance,” Walters — the sometime ABC News personality, sometime “The View” den mother — said during the Hot Topics portion of “The View.”

It all started overnight Tuesday when the celebrity suck-up site TMZ published leaked video from the Fox singing competition’s Tuesday auditions in Charlotte. Minaj and Carey are seen exchanging heated words after disagreeing about an auditioner’s performance.

“Think I’m playin’? Think this [s---] is a [f------] joke?” Minaj is seen saying. She adds: “If you say one more disrespectful thing to me — off with your head!”

That kicked off a colorfully worded, mostly monologing rant, in which Minaj told Carey, among other things: “I told them, I’m not . . . putting up with your. . . highness over there. . . . Figure it the . . . out.”

“Idol” exec producer Nigel Lythgoe insisted Wednesday that one report — which said Minaj threatened Carey after Tuesday’s taped dust-up — was “absolute rubbish.” That he knows because “Mariah confronted Nicki” Wednesday, asking whether she made the threat, and “Nicki said, ‘Absolutely not.’ ” That seemed to be good enough for Nigel.

Walters, however, wasn’t buying it. At the top of “The View” Thursday, Walters explained that she’d spoken to Carey by phone, noting that she’s gotten to be a friend of the pop singer’s from interviewing her so many times over the years. Walters added: “I did the first interview with her twins.” They would have been about 6 months old and, presumably, did not have much to say. In the course of that phone call, Carey “said she’s very concerned. . . . She’s with her twins. . . . I’m quoting now — ‘Nicki is unpredictable,’ ” Walters said. “Mariah says she can’t take a chance and she’s hired extra security.”

Minaj has not apologized for the obscenity-riddled incident and, after a meeting with show producers, told Carey, “I love you, but we might fight again,” Walters reported, citing Carey as her source. To which Carey responded, “No, we will not,” Walters reported.

“She obviously still has serious concerns,” Walters said of Carey while talking to The Ladies of “The View.”

One of them, Elisabeth Hasselbeck noted that even if Minaj was just blowing off steam, her fans might take the gun suggestion literally. Hasselbeck suggested that Minaj should make some sort of statement “that she could release to those that really love Nicki, to just not to try to take their own action in any way — as a means of protecting Mariah.”

Minaj did make a statement. Several of them. On Twitter:

“Hey yAll. Lets just say nicki said smthn about a gun. ppl will believe it cuz she’s a black rapper. Lmao,” Minaj tweeted Thursday afternoon.

“I’ll then hit up Barbara n milk it,” Minaj tweeted, channeling Carey. Minaj also tweeted: “Ironically no camera or mic heard the gun comment tho. Lol @ the struggle.”

Then, addressing Carey, she tweeted, “Not even the producers believed u.”

In fairness, Minaj added, “Say no to violence.”

“As if you would need a gun anyway,” one of her fans tweeted in response.

Another fan wondered/
tweeted: “but how come Barbara ain’t called you to find out YOUR side of the story? WHAT KIND OF JOURNALISM?”

(During “The View,” Walters said, “If Nicki wants to call anyone, I’m sure we’d be happy to take the phone call.”)

Instead, Minaj tweeted: “I don’t call tmz n Barbara Walters cuz I stand on my own two feet. Never needed an army. God is good. Insecurity is as cruel as the grave.”

Actually, Minaj did go on “The View” — last week, when she needed an army to launch her new perfume, Pink Friday.

“I guess it hurts 2 have the producers tell u to ur face that nicki is the best judge we’ve had since simon,” Minaj tweeted to Carey after “The View” broadcast.

Fox declined to comment. At press time Thursday, “Idol” producers had not responded to an e-mail request seeking comment.

Defending Big Bird

“Thank goodness someone is finally getting tough on Big Bird,” Obama told a Denver crowd the morning after his televised debate Wednesday with Romney.

One of the show-stopping moments of the first presidential debate — for serious students of television, anyway — happened when Romney, addressing Lehrer, said: “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS.

“I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too, but I’m going to stop borrowing money from China to pay for things we don’t need.”

The next morning, Big Bird’s parent, Sesame Workshop, and others, leaped to BB’s defense, suggesting that Romney needs to do his homework.

You can debate whether there should be funding of public broadcasting, “but when they always try to trot out Big Bird, and say we’re going to kill Big Bird — that is actually misleading,” Sherrie Westin, exec vice president at Sesame Workshop, scolded Thursday morning on CNN.

“Sesame Workshop receives very, very little funding from PBS,” she explained.

“We are able to raise our funding through philanthropic [means], through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship,” Westin added.

Sesame Workshop, meanwhile, issued a statement Thursday: “We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. We do not comment on campaigns, but we’re happy we can all agree that everyone likes Big Bird!”

In its own statement, issued after the debate, PBS said: “The federal investment in public broadcasting equals about one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget. Elimination of funding would have virtually no impact on the nation’s debt.”

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to