Democratic debate, ’60 Minutes’ top prime-time TV ratings

Former Vice President Joe Biden clashed vigorously with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Wednesday night's South Carolina debate.
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The only two programs in prime time last week that averaged more than 9 million viewers were the Democratic presidential debate and “60 Minutes,” both on CBS.

The Feb. 25 debate from Charleston, S.C. averaged 15.336 million viewers, the most among prime-time broadcast and cable programs airing between Feb. 24 and Sunday, according to live-plus-same-day figures released Tuesday by Nielsen.

Viewership was 22.4% less than the combined viewership of 19.782 million average for the Feb. 19 debate which aired on NBC and cable’s MSNBC, which was the most for a Democratic presidential debate.

Live programs, mainly NFL games, have topped the weekly ratings for all but one week of the 23-week-old 2019-20 season.


The CBS News magazine “60 Minutes” was second for the week, averaging 9.182 million viewers, after finishing sixth and seventh the previous two weeks. Sunday’s broadcast included an interview with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The debate prompted preemption of the CBS action drama “NCIS,” and its crime drama, “FBI,” the season’s two most-watched entertainment series.

With CBS’ schedule altered by the debate, NBC had each of the week’s five most-watched entertainment programs, topped by the two-hour Feb. 24 season premiere of the singing competition “The Voice” which averaged 8.993 million viewers, third overall.

NBC’s “Chicago” franchise accounted for each of the three most-watched scripted programs. “Chicago Fire” was fourth for the week, averaging 8.657 million viewers. “Chicago Med,” which preceded “Chicago Fire,” was fifth, averaging 8.605 million viewers. “Chicago PD,” which followed “Chicago Fire,” was seventh, averaging 8.116 million viewers, most among the week’s 10 p.m. dramas.

CBS also opted to air a rerun of “Young Sheldon,” the season’s most-watched comedy, which was the week’s most-watched comedy, averaging 6.026 million viewers, 16th overall.


CBS finished first in the network race for the third consecutive week and eighth time in the season, averaging 6.07 million viewers. It also had time-slot victories from its new Los Angeles-set crime drama “Tommy” and all three of its Friday series, “MacGyver,” “Hawaii Five-0" and a “Blue Bloods” rerun.

NBC was second for the second consecutive week, averaging 4.72 million, followed by ABC, which averaged 4.22 million.

Fox News Channel was third, averaging 3.033 million viewers. Fox averaged 2.56 million viewers for its 15 hours, 37 minutes of programming, its fourth consecutive fourth-place finish among the broadcast networks following Super Bowl LIV.

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


“American Idol” was ABC’s most-watched program for the third time in the three weeks it has aired this season, averaging 6.992 million viewers, 6.8% less than the 7.5 million-average a week earlier. The singing competition was ninth for the week, the same as the previous week.

Fox’s highest-rated program was “The Masked Singer,” 13th for the week, averaging 6.736 million viewers.

Fox News Channel had each of the 14 most-watched prime-time cable programs to finish first among cable networks for the sixth consecutive week, averaging 3.033 million viewers. The Wednesday edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was the first among cable programs, averaging 4.193 million viewers, 36th overall

MSNBC was second, averaging 1.797 million viewers, and CNN third, averaging 1.161 million.