Election years typically bring a boost to “Saturday Night Live” ratings, and the NBC latenight skein is off to a great start in the early going this season, racking up its best overnights in nearly six years.

Saturday’s telecast, hosted by Olympic swimming sensation Michael Phelps and featuring a special appearance by Tina Fey as Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, averaged a 7.4 household rating/18 share in 55 markets metered by Nielsen (Houston and New Orleans were excluded due to Hurricane Ike).

Saturday’s season opener outrated the initial telecast in 2007 by 64%, with top local scores generated by Baltimore (14.7/29), St. Louis (12.6/25) and Oklahoma City (11.0/21).

This was the top-rated “Saturday Night Live” season debut since Sept. 29, 2001, and the best score for any episode of the variety show since December 2002 (hosted by Al Gore).

Palin herself, meanwhile, scored big for ABC as Charles Gibson’s exclusive interview with the governor, broken into several segments, boosted the ratings for Alphabet news programs.

Thursday’s telecast of “World News” averaged 9.7 million (its most for one night since February), and that night’s “Nightline” (4.2 household rating/10 share) bested NBC’s “Tonight Show” (3.6/9) and CBS’ “Late Show” (3.3/8) in the overnights.

And “20/20” was Friday’s top-rated program (prelim 2.1/6 in 18-49, 2.8/7 in 25-54 and 7.9 million viewers overall), with the newsmag drawing its largest aud on the night since February.