Republican Debate Fox News Ratings
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Fox News Channel’s primetime Republican Presidential Primary Debate captured 24 million viewers overall, making it the highest-rated non-sports cable telecast of all time, according to data from Nielsen. Last night’s debate was the highest-rated presidential primary debate ever, according to the Nielsen figures.

The debate, moderated by Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, won 7.9 million viewers between 25 and 54, the demographic most desired by advertisers in news programming.

The debate, which generated attention beforehand as observers tried to determine which 10 members of a broad slate of candidates would be granted entrance to the primetime event and which would be given time in a separate event held at 5 p.m., was also the highest-rated cable news program of all time, and Fox News’  most-watched program ever in both total viewers and the 25-54 viewer demo.

It was a raucous affair, with Megyn Kelly drawing notice for asking Donald Trump, the real-estate mogul who has emerged as Republican front-runner early in the process, about the way he spoke about women. Trump seemed put off by the query.

Thursday’s event, slated to run between 8:50 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET, more than doubled the network’s previous high of 11.8 million total viewers, earned during its coverage of the 2012 presidential election, Fox News said.

Trump, whose candidacy has fascinated the viewing public, and who got a good share of the attention in last night’s event, has done better on his own. The first season of “The Apprentice” on NBC in the spring of 2004 averaged 28.1 million viewers. And the all-time cable ratings record remains the 33.6 million viewers who tuned in to the College Football Championship game on ESPN in January between Ohio State and Oregon.

The earlier debate, moderated by Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum, averaged 6.1 million total viewers and 1.2 million viewers in the demo, Fox News said, making it the third-highest primary presidential debate ever for the network.

The two debates were bridged by Fox News programs broadcast live and largely from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland where both events took place. The debate was the number one event on Twitter last night, according to Nielsen Social TV ratings ranked, which measured  3.3 million tweets and 393 million impressions – more than were generated by the Jon Stewart’s farewell from “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central that aired just as the second debate wound down. FoxNews.com broke records as well, delivering more than 8 million video streams, in addition to more than 2.5 million simulcast video streams of the primetime debate.

Rick Kissell contributed to this report.

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