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October 16, 2008

Viewership drops for third debate

83289070UPDATED: The third and final presidential debate failed to kick "you know what" in the ratings Wednesday night.

The testy clash in Long Island between Barack Obama and John McCain was seen by 56.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That's 8% higher than the first debate held on a Friday (52.4 million) and 11% lower than the second bout, held on a Tuesday (63.2 million). And, of course, it's much lower than the vp debate, which stands as the second most watched of all time (70 million).

Viewership was likely affected by Fox airing a series-deciding Game 5 of the NLCS baseball championships, Los Angeles vs. Philadelphia last night. L.A. and Philly are the second- and fourth-largest television markets, respectively.

NBC: 11.3 million
ABC: 10.6 million
CBS: 9.2 million
Fox News: 9.1 million
CNN: 8.9 million
MSNBC: 3.7 million

This is Fox News' highest-rated debate of the year. By market, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis had the highest viewership, and New Orleans, Los Angeles and Sacramento had the lowest. The Nielsen measurement includes telecasts on  ABC, CBS, NBC, Univision, BBC America, CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and MUN2 and on tape delay on Telemundo.

Also, PBS estimates an audience of 3.2 million viewers (2.1/3 HH rating) -- its biggest yet for a top-of-the-ticket debate on the network this year. PBS is not part of the Nielsen sample, but if its audience is added to the mix, the debate was seen by 59.7 million.

Though the ratings were mixed compared with recent debates, reaction from pundits expressed near-universal agreement that viewers finally saw an intense and substantive debate between the  candidates, with moderator Bob Schieffer drawing raves.

Reactions:  Joe the Plumber won, says Times of London. Obama hasn't closed the sale, writes Karl Rove. "Like watching a split-screen double feature -- 'Grumpy Old Men' playing side by side with 'Cool Hand Luke,' " writes Arianna Huffington."An ice cube wouldn't have melted on his forehead," says Politico. "Obama looked like a prosecutor delivering a polished summation in a long civil case -- Joe the Plumber vs. George W. Bush," writes NY Times. "There seems little doubt that McCain scored many more points than Obama," writes the National Review. "He sneered out the words, 'health of the mother,' and actually framed them in air quotes," marvels Joan Walsh. "Third time turned out to be the liveliest," writes THR. Venue featured protests and indifference, notes Newsmax. "Schieffer rose to the occasion magnificently," writes Sky News. "Schieffer tiled strongly left," claims Newsbusters. Insta-polls say Obama won. Video clips. Dueling post-debate ads. RCP electoral map.

Updates to come. Refresh for latest.

>> Ratings for the first debate, vp debate, second presidential debate. Ratings for Wednesday night's entertainment programming.

>> Hollywood Reporter's election coverage homepage.

>> Fall TV series survival status report: An electoral map of the broadcast networks


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