Donahue debut darts past Chung on CNN

But neither talker puts dent in O'Reilly's ratings

NEW YORK — Phil Donahue’s debut Monday on MSNBC scored a slight upset over CNN’s “Connie Chung Tonight.”

The return of the pewter-haired pundit pulled in a 0.9 household rating, representing 693,000 households, according to Nielsen. By comparison, Chung’s gabber attracted a 0.8 in households Monday night, representing 705,000 households.

(Chung’s show drew more eyeballs despite a lower rating because CNN is available in 86 million homes nationally, while MSNBC reaches 76 million.)

“The big question is not how he did last night,” Katz TV programming exec Bill Carroll said, “but how he’ll do in a three-way race. Phil Donahue was pretty much everywhere. NBC spent a lot of time promoting him.”

Indeed, Connie Chung’s debut last month — also a ballyhooed comeback — drew a 0.9 in households.

Chung’s hour is geared toward newsmaking, with a relatively big editorial budget, whereas Donahue’s hour is skewed to chat, which shouldn’t be nearly as expensive to produce. And at $2 million a year, Chung’s salary is double Donahue’s.

The initial interest in “Donahue” didn’t come at the expense of rival evening cable gabbers: “The O’Reilly Factor” attracted a 2.1 Monday — a slightly larger aud than usual for the Fox News skein — and Chung remained fairly constant at 0.7, indicating overall growth in the number of cable-gabber fans gathering at 8 p.m.

The bow of MSNBC’s new lineup, which includes Jerry Nachman’s skein at 7 p.m., a “Hardball” changeup to 9 p.m. and an Ashleigh Banfield pushback to 10 p.m., resulted in a 71% jump in primetime auds from the second quarter of 2002.

MSNBC, a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC, aims to challenge CNN for second place in the cable news ratings.

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