Nets go big on Bin Laden story

Big 3 expand newscasts; CNN draws largest aud since '08

All three networks will extend their evening newscasts by half an hour tonight in order to keep up with breaking news on the heels of President Obama’s announcement last night that Navy SEALs had killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Despite the late hour of the presidential address on the East Coast, the breaking news of Bin Laden’s death delivered big numbers for news outlets. CNN peaked at 9.5 million viewers during Obama’s 10-minute address, which aired from 11:35-11:45 p.m. ET. A CNN rep said it marked the cabler’s largest aud since Election Night in 2008.

For the 11 p.m. ET hour, CNN logged 7.76 million total viewers for the 11 p.m. hour, with 3.9 million in the 25-54 demo. Fox News was No. 2 at 4.78 million total viewers and 2.07 million in the demo. MSNBC came in third with 2.28 million total viewers and 1.13 million in the demo.

CBS and NBC faced criticism for returning quickly to regularly skedded programming on Sunday night. On Monday, all three nets stepped up their evening news coverage as the all-news cablers went wall-to-wall with the story.

CBS’s Katie Couric will anchor an hourlong special edition of the evening news from Ground Zero with reports from correspondents in Washington (including the recently-returned Lara Logan) and Islamabad. David Beamer, the father of United Airlines Flight 93 hero Todd Beamer, will be among those interviewed.

NBC will also air an hourlong special with Brian Williams anchoring, and ABC will air an hour of “World News” with Diane Sawyer at the helm interviewing Rudy Giuliani and former veep Dick Cheney.

NBC News prexy Steve Capus explains that the net “can’t just lay claim” to the extra half-hour (it belongs to the broadcast nets’ affiliate stations), but he added, “I expect there will be great interest in this.”

CBS News prexy David Rhodes confirmed that expectation, for the Eye’s part. “We got a really energetic response from the stations when we first went out with those calls, which was around 9:45 eastern,” Rhodes said.