Democrats’ Vegas debate wins the weekly TV ratings

Democratic presidential candidates, from left, Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden during Wednesday's debate in Las Vegas.
(Getty Images)

The Democratic presidential debate from Las Vegas was not only last week’s most-watched broadcast program but also placed first among cable programs, according to live-plus-same-day figures released Tuesday by Nielsen.

An average of 12.111 million watched the debate on NBC last Wednesday, while the MSNBC telecast averaged 7.671 million.

The combined viewership of 19.782 million was the most for a Democratic presidential debate, breaking the previous record of 18.1 million for the June 27 debate, which averaged a total of 18.1 million viewers on NBC, MSNBC and Spanish-language network Telemundo.

Only two other prime-time programs last week averaged more than 10 million viewers — the CBS procedural drama “NCIS,” which averaged 11.921 million viewers, and Fox’s 13-minute Daytona 500 postrace show, which averaged 10.078 million. The rain-delayed race ended before the 8 p.m. Eastern Time start of prime time.

CBS had four of the top six programs, finishing first in the network race for the second consecutive week and seventh time in the 22-week-old 2019-20 season. It averaged 6.12 million viewers between Feb. 17 and Sunday.

NBC was second, averaging 4.39 million, followed by ABC, which averaged 4.16 million; and Fox, which averaged 2.98 million viewers for its 15 hours, 11 minutes of programming, its third consecutive fourth-place finish among the broadcast networks following Super Bowl LIV.


CBS, ABC and NBC each aired 22 hours of prime-time programming.

“FBI,” which followed “NCIS” on CBS, was fourth for the week, averaging 9.224 million viewers.

CBS also had the most-watched comedy, “Young Sheldon,” fifth for the week averaging 9.117 million, and the most-watched newsmagazine, “60 Minutes,” sixth for the week, averaging 8.946 million viewers.

Without an original episode of its popular “Chicago” franchise, NBC’s most-watched program other than the debate was “America’s Got Talent: The Champions,” eighth for the week, averaging 7.612 million viewers.

In some markets NBC aired reruns before the debates and in other markets, including Los Angeles, after the debates.

“American Idol” was ABC’s most-watched program for the second time in the two weeks it has aired this season, averaging 7.5 million viewers, 7.1% less than the 8.073 million it averaged a week earlier. The singing competition was ninth for the week, one spot below where its season premiere ranked.

Fox’s highest-rated program other than the Daytona 500 postrace show was “The Masked Singer,” 11th for the week, averaging 7.134 million viewers.


Fox News Channel had each of the seven most-watched prime-time cable programs outside of the debate and 13 of the top 14, to finish first among cable networks for the fifth consecutive week, averaging 3.008 million viewers.

MSNBC was second, averaging 2.165 million, and HGTV third, averaging 1.175 million.