Night's big events also included NFL and baseball playoff action

Monday was a huge viewing night for live programming, with a presidential debate, “Monday Night Football” and series-clinching postseason baseball action accounting for about 78 million viewers.

The debate, the third and final of the season between President Obama and Mitt Romney, drew a combined 59.2 million viewers across 11 networks from 9 to 10:34 p.m. ET, according to Nielsen. While a boffo total, it couldn’t quite match the previous debates, which drew 67.2 million on Oct. 3 and 65.6 million on Oct. 16.

Four years ago, the final debate between Obama and John McCain drew 56.5 million.

NBC drew the largest debate audience, averaging 12.39 million to 11.73 million for ABC and 8.44 for CBS. The foreign policy-focused debate was hosted by Lynn University in Florida and moderated by CBS’ “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer.

On the cable side, Fox News drew a network-record 11.48 million to easily top cable rivals CNN (5.81 million) and MSNBC (4.06 million). The turnout bested Fox News’ previous high of 11.1 million, set by the 2008 vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin and tied last week by the second Obama-Romney debate.

FNC also prevailed in the key news demo of adults 25-54 (3.43 million to 2.48 million for CNN and 1.70 million for MSNBC), while CNN drew more adults under 35 (1.21 million to 941,000 for FNC and 499,000 for MSNBC).

ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” matchup between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears averaged a 4.5 rating/11 share in adults 18-49 and 10.66 million viewers overall, while Fox’s seventh and deciding game of the NLCS between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals did a 2.4/6 in the demo and averaged 8.11 million.

Both likely rated lower than they would have on just about any other night, but the debate stole some audience away. The baseball game also lost viewers along the way as some of the drama was sapped when the Giants opened a 7-0 lead early on their way to a 9-0 victory.

Major League Baseball’s two League Championship Series on TBS and Fox this month averaged 6.2 million viewers, up 7% from last year.

On the entertainment side in the 8 o’clock hour, NBC’s “The Voice” was the top series in demos Monday (4.3/11 in 18-49, 12.02 million viewers overall) while competing ABC reality show “Dancing With the Stars” (2.4/6, 13.27m) led in total viewers and drew its best demo score in four weeks.

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