Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 5.
If Donald Trump's ascent to Republican Party presidential nominee taught us anything, its that television is all about star-power, and last night's vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine just didn't have it.
And though the pundits are having fun parsing Tuesday's encounter between Indiana's Republican Governor Pence and Virginia's Democratic Senator Kaine, ratings for the event aren't expected to get anywhere near the 2012 match-up between Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden.
The Pence-Kaine debate generated 37 million viewers, according to Nielsen, falling well short of the Palin-Biden clash, which tallied a VP debate record 69.9 million viewers. Comcast's (CMCSA) - Get Report NBC attracted the largest number of viewers at 7 million followed by CBS (CBS) - Get Report at 6.5 million and Disney's (DIS) - Get Report ABC at 6.2 million. The Fox network came in fourth among the major broadcasters at 2.2 million.
Among cable-TV networks, Fox News Channel topped CNN, 6.1 million to 4.2 million. MSNBC came in third with 3.1 million. Among the advertiser-preferred demographic of 25 to 54-year-olds, CNN narrowly beat Fox News, 1.7 million to 1.5 million.
Interest in Sarah Palin, the Alaskan governor who would later resign to pursue a career as a TV pundit, reality-TV star and paid speaker, fueled intense interest in her on-air contest with Biden, at that time a senator from Delaware.
The Pence-Kaine debate also fell short of the 2012 vice-presidential debate between Biden and Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman elected by his colleagues as House Speaker a year ago. The Biden-Ryan debate averaged 51.4 million viewers.
The VP debate is also expected to have been as much as half as large as the audience of 84 million that watched the first presidential debate between Trump and Clinton in Sept. 26. The second Trump-Clinton debate is scheduled for October 9 at Washington University in St. Louis.
The first Trump-Clinton debate broke the 1980 viewing record set back in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
The drop-off for the Kaine-Pence debate compared to the first Trump-Clinton contest reflects the steep drop-off in notoriety. On ABC, the vice-presidential debate registered a 4.5 household rating compared to 8.6 for Trump-Clinton. NBC had a similar divergence with a 4.9 household rating for Kaine-Pence trailing an 11.1 rating for the presidential debate.
But even if Tuesday's vice-presidential debate attracted an audience of only 40 million, that easily exceeded the week's highest-rated TV programming. That distinction went to NBC's Sunday Night Football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas city Chiefs that generated an audience of 18.1 million and CBS's NCIS with 15.5 million, according to Nielsen.
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