Final Presidential Debate Draws 56.5M

Rash Report: Could Be Too Many Joe Six-Packs Were Watching Baseball

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- Maybe some of the Joe Plumbers were watching the ballgame. Or maybe, after months of political coverage, the electrified electorate needed a break. But the third presidential debate was watched by about 11% fewer Americans than watched the "town hall" format the week before. The 56.5 million represented 8% more than the first Friday-night debate, but still paled in comparison to the Palin-Biden vice presidential debate, which drew 69.9 million.
The 56.5 million represented 8% more than the first Friday-night debate.
The 56.5 million represented 8% more than the first Friday-night debate. Credit: AP

It couldn't have been the moderator that moderated the ratings, as CBS's Bob Schieffer did what PBS's Jim Lehrer and NBC's Tom Brokaw couldn't do: get the two senators to talk to each other. But despite the job well done, Schieffer's successor, lead anchor Katie Couric, couldn't resurrect ratings the same way she has her reputation after her seminal interview with Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. CBS finished third in Debate Analysis ratings with a 2.2/5 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic. ABC was second in the half-hour with a 2.5/6, while NBC won the Debate Analysis vote with a 3.1/8.

Sports offer distraction
As for nonpolitical programming, with the traditional big three taking two hours for the debate and analysis of who might best lead the nation, Fox focused on who might best lead the National League. Game Five of the National League Championship Series saw the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the pennant and advance to the World Series. The game scored a 2.6/7, which was even with this year's previous prime-time NLCS games but twice last year's TBS telecast of a Colorado clincher over Arizona.

This left only the first hour for entertainment programming (the CW ran on a platform of "America's Next Top Model," which was down 21% from its season average to a 1.5/4 and a rerun of "90210," which lost nearly half of its "Model" lead-in as it notched a .8/2).

And like the presidential polls themselves, the ratings race seems unchanged, as NBC's "Knight Rider" (2.3/6), CBS's "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (2.2/6) and "Gary Unmarried" (2.3/6) and ABC's "Pushing Daisies" (1.9/5) were all near their season averages.

Because the presidential debates are commercial-free (except for Joe's Plumbing, that is), adult 18-49 ratings aren't immediately available. So a clear nightly Nielsen winner cannot be discerned.

'Plumber' in the spotlight
But that's OK. It was Joe's night anyway. Which is probably good. Because he's not having a good day, since the press pressured him for more of his political perspectives, and in the process The New York Times (among others) found out his real name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (doesn't quite have the same ring as "Joe," does it?) and he is not only not a licensed plumber, but he had never served an apprenticeship.

And, of yeah, his tax questions, which made Joe the Plumber, along with Bob the Moderator and John and Barack the Senators, the fourth character in last night's debate? It seems Joe might have more pressing concerns than the Obama tax plan and how it would impact his efforts to buy his own plumbing business. Public records indicate he is subject to a personal tax lien of $1,000.

"I'm kind of like Britney Spears having a headache," he told the Associated Press. "Everybody wants to know about it."

Next time, he'll probably watch the ballgame, too.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: Actually, there is one more debate, as the candidates -- and no doubt the moderator -- are mocked on the Thursday spin-off of NBC's "Saturday Night Live," starting at 9:30 p.m.
Friday: All the politics may make you want to escape to a desert island. But be careful what you wish for, lest you end up like the title character in NBC's "Crusoe," which debuts at 8 p.m.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Will the election fatigue that dampened debate delivery for the real thing on Wednesday also impact the fake debate on Thursday?

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis . For more, see rashreport.com.
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