SECOND DEBATE DRAWS MORE VIEWERS THAN FIRST

The second presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama attracted more viewers than the first but it did not outdraw the audience for last week's vice-presidential debate, according to overnight Nielsen results released today (Wednesday). Some 37 million viewers tuned in to the four broadcast networks, with ABC leading the field with 13.80 million, followed by NBC with 9.72 million and CBS with 9.30 million. Fox averaged 5.17 million. Results for cable networks were not immediately available.

CBS TAKES OVER FIRST PLACE AGAIN

CBS returned to its usual position at the top of the Nielsen weekly ratings list last week, with its largely unheralded NCIS rising to second place in its season debut. The network also saw solid results for its new series The Mentalist, which followed NCIS. The strong showing for the network was particularly striking considering the fact that its biggest draw, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, does not make its season debut until this week. But while CBS's overall audience was up for the week, most of ABC's and NBC's shows were down sharply. For the week, CBS averaged a 7.0 rating and a 12 share. (It also won among adults 18-49.) ABC came in second with an average 6.0/10. NBC placed third with a 6.0/10, while Fox trailed with a 4.0/6.

The top ten shows of the week according to Nielsen Research:

1. Dancing With the Stars (Monday), ABC, 12.2/18; 2. NCIS, CBS, 11.0./17; 3. 60 Minutes, CBS, 10.5/17; 4. Dancing With the Stars (Tuesday), ABC, 10.2/15; 5. Desperate Housewives, ABC, 10.0/15; 6. The Mentalist, CBS, 9.8/15; 7. CSI: NY, CBS, 9.6/16; 8. Criminal Minds, CBS, 9.5/15; 9. CSI: Miami, CBS, 9.2/15; 10. NBC Sunday Night Football, NBC, 8.8/14.

BASEBALL SCORES FOR TBS

Thanks to the baseball playoffs, TBS became the top cable network last week. (Its coverage of the third game of the American League division series between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was the most-watched game of the week.) The ratings victory came despite a 20-percent fall-off in total viewers for the playoffs from 2007 when the New York Yankees, representing the city with the largest viewing audience, were competing. Baseball could not draw as many viewers as football, however, as ESPN's Monday Night Football coverage of the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers contest scored 11.8 million viewers, making it the top-rated cable telecast of the week and helped put ESPN into third place in the overall ratings. Fox News Channel also zoomed to the top of the cable ratings chart, placing second for the week as it drew a record (for FNC) 11.1 million viewers for its telecast of the vice-presidential debate, almost as many as tuned in to each of the Big 3 broadcast networks to watch the candidates square off in their only face-to-face encounter.

LIGHTS DEBUT ON DIRECTV -- NOT TOO BRIGHT

Last week's season debut of Friday Night Lights on DirecTV attracted just 400,000 viewers, a tiny percentage of the 6.2 million who watched the critically acclaimed series on NBC last season. But while 6.2 million is a relatively low number for a broadcast show, 400,000 was considered a solid figure for a show that is available only to DirecTV's 17 million subscribers. Today's (Wednesday) New York Times reported that Friday Night Lights ranked seventh overall among all basic-cable shows during its time period but second among women 18-49. The series is airing on Wednesday and Friday nights on DirecTV until February when it is scheduled to be repeated on NBC.

CABLE STOCKS BATTERED DURING MARKET PLUNGE

As the stock market went through another day of upheaval Tuesday, cable and satellite stocks were among those battered hardest. Charter Communications, the nation's third-largest cable company, controlled by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, was down a whopping 12.9 percent. The company has been struggling with a heavy debt load. Cablevision dropped 8.6 percent; Dish Network, 6.3 percent; Comcast, 5.5 percent; DirecTV 2.1 percent; and Time Warner Cable, 1.6 percent. All of the companies remained virtually unchanged in mid-morning trading today (Wednesday).

SEINFELD REPLIES TO SLANDER LAWSUIT

In a legal response to a slander lawsuit brought by cookbook writer Missy Chase Lapine and published Tuesday by the website TheSmokingGun.com, Jerry Seinfeld says that his recent televised remarks about her were consistent with a "recurring theme" in his performances about the "litigious nature of society." Lapine had initially sued Seinfeld's wife Jessica, claiming that she plagiarized Lapine's recipes for her own cookbook. Referring to the plagiarism suit, Seinfeld said on the David Letterman program that Lapine was a "hysterical ... three name woman," adding, "If you read history, many of the three-name people do become assassins." He said that another (unnamed) woman who had written a book about vegetables had accused Jessica of "vegetable plagiarism." In addition, he recalled an episode of Seinfeld in which the character Cosmo Kramer filed a lawsuit after spilling coffee on himself in a movie theater. And in the movie, Bee Movie, he pointed out, the main character, a bee, sues the human race for holding bees captive "in smoky shoddy fake hives" and particularly focuses his attention on celebrities including Sting, "whose name is obviously offensive to bees."