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MSNBC tops CNN in primetime hour

Politics drive cable network's October ratings

In a primetime ratings development reflecting a highly charged political season, an unpopular presidential administration and a fresh-faced new talking head, MSNBC announced that it is poised to beat CNN in the coveted adults 25-54 demo for the month of October.

The stat, which excludes the cable news nets’ coverage of the presidential and VP debates, shows MSNBC’s regularly scheduled 7, 8 and 9 p.m. programs regularly besting the Turner net for the first time.

According to Nielsen, “Hardball With Chris Matthews” notched 458,000 viewers in the demo vs. 428,000 for CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” while at 8, “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” out-rated Campbell Brown’s “No Bias, No Bull” 784,000 to 582,000.

 Most striking, however, was the victory of the seven-week-old “Rachel Maddow Show.” Maddow, Olbermann’s left-leaning leadout, has posted 396% growth since Oct. 7. Most impressively, the news-and-current-events yakker has topped CNN’s venerable “Larry King Live” for the month, its 700,000 viewers edging out King’s average of 673,000.

Fox News Channel, of course, remains the primetime demo champ in cable news, with 532,000 viewers at 7 p.m., 946,000 at 8 and 843,000 viewers at 9 — but the fight for the 25-54ers has tightened considerably in recent years.

“It’s powerful,” MSNBC prexy Phil Griffin said of the news. Citing the net’s long-term strategy, he added: “We knew that cable news was coming of age, that this election was going to be so important, that this was our time to develop a loyal audience … and we did it.”