37.7 mil tune in, down 19% from first chat

Viewers apparently have heard enough from the presidential candidates, as Tuesday’s third and final debate — held just three weeks before Election Day and amid a close race — drew one of the smallest audiences ever for such chats.

According to Nielsen, the seven broadcast and cable outlets that aired Tuesday’s debate from St. Louis attracted 37.7 million viewers during the average minute– down 19% from the first debate two weeks earlier (46.6 million) but up slightly from the 37.5 million who watched the second Bush-Gore debate on Oct. 11.

It’s also more than the 36.3 million viewers who tuned in for the second and final Clinton-Dole debate four years ago but just the third least-watched presidential debate ever. This year’s vice-presidential debate drew 28.5 million.

Game 6 impact

Elsewhere Tuesday, coverage of Game 6 of baseball’s American League Championship Series on NBC and Pax put a dent in the night’s entertainment programs — even if the game itself was not a ratings juggernaut.

The baseball contest, won by the Yankees, averaged 12.63 million viewers on NBC and Pax, where it aired in 20 markets, including Chicago and Philadelphia. NBC gave its affiliates the option of carrying the debates or baseball, with many airing the debates after the game and the others farming the game out to Pax.

This is 6% more viewers than Game 1 of the series a week earlier on NBC and nearly three times the audience for the divisional playoff game on the net opposite the first debate. In adults 18-49, Tuesday’s 5.2/14 is the best for any postseason game this season.

‘Angel’ on high

Fox’s “Dark Angel” (13.05 million, 6.3/15 in A18-49) continues to look very good, posting the night’s best ratings in all key demos.

Sci-fi drama was off by only 3% in adults 18-49 week-to-week despite the increased competition for male eyeballs on the night from baseball and the debate. In fact, while “Dark’s” men 18-49 and 18-34 numbers were down slightly vs. a week ago, it was up in women 18-34 and 18-49.

“Dark Angel” doesn’t figure to face competition for the male audience all season as formidable as it did Tuesday night.

CBS’ “JAG,” affected by baseball because of their significant crossover audience, saw its viewership drop by 3% week-to-week (13.64 million viewers from 14.07 million), although it was the most-watched program at 8:30 (14.18m).

Fox’s “That ’70s Show” topped all competish in adults 18-49 (6.0/17) and 18-34 (6.6/21) from 8 to 8:30 while at 8:30, “Titus” (5.1/13) edged a special episode of ABC’s “Geena Davis Show” (5.0/13) in adults 18-49.

“Geena” built by 14% on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’s” 18-49 score (5.0/13 vs. 4.4/12) but that’s below the 40% that “Millionaire” itself achieved a week earlier. The rookie sitcom, which airs regularly on the night at 9:30, won its half-hour in women 18-49 (5.7/14).

The WB’s more female-skewing dramas “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” bucked the trend Tuesday, improving week-to-week by 10% and 15% in adults 18-34, respectively.

For the portion of the night rated by Nielsen (including debate analysis but not the debate itself), ABC led in viewers (14.24m) and Fox in 18-49 (5.8/15).

ABC led the debate coverage with 15.12 million viewers, while CNN led the cable pack with 2.54 million.

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