Astonishing many political pundits who predicted that the first John McCain-Barack Obama debate would attract a record audience for a presidential debate, preliminary Nielsen figures indicated over the weekend that the debate actually drew 12-percent fewer viewers than the 2004 debate between George Bush and Al Gore. Figures were based on electronic ratings conducted in 55 of the largest markets. More detailed ratings are expected to be released later today (Monday) but are unlikely to alter the original figures significantly, analysts said. The four major broadcast networks together earned a 34.7 rating, representing about 29.53 million viewers. (Ratings for the cable news networks were not immediately available.) By contrast, the 1980 debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter captured a 58.9 rating, representing 80.6 million viewers. ABC drew the biggest audience for the debate, averaging 10.20 million viewers. NBC came in second with 7.75 million viewers. CBS followed closely with 7.44 million, while Fox trailed with 4.14 million.


Tina Fey as Sarah Palin once again gave ratings for NBC's Saturday Night Livean enormous boost over the weekend as the third show of the season scored ratings that were 46 percent higher than those for the comparable episode a year ago. The show drew a 6.0 rating and a 15 share -- higher than the ratings for any network show broadcast earlier in the evening during primetime, NBC said. The network also plans to broadcast Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursdayduring primetime on Thursdays beginning Oct. 9 for three weeks.


A New York court on Friday blocked plans by The Weinstein Co. to move Project Runway"or any spinoff" from the Bravo cable network to Lifetime Television. Broadcasting and Cablemagazine reported today (Monday) that the court concluded that Bravo's contract with The Weinstein Co. could be enforced even though it had not been signed, since the TV industry routinely disregards legal formality in order to accelerate the production of television shows. Instead the court relied on an email exchange between NBC Universal Entertainment Co-chairman Marc Graboff and Harvey Weinstein.


One week after Rupert Murdoch scoffed at reports that NBC had far exceeded sales expectations for its Olympic Games telecasts ("I don't think they made much money," he said), NBC Universal's CEO appeared to confirm Murdoch's remarks. "The Olympics were profitable, not wildly profitable, but we made money on the Olympics," Jeff Zucker told the British Royal Television Society in London on Friday. He then added, "You measure success in other ways than just what it's done for the bottom line." He seemed to suggest that, beyond revenue, the Olympics also gave NBC the opportunity to promote its new programs and lift its prestige. Last season it wound up with the lowest ratings among the top four networks. "You can't sell what you can't measure," Zucker said, seeming to suggest that the company will gain indirect benefits. "Eventually it will be very significant to our bottom line," he remarked. Zucker also used the occasion to express confidence in NBC Entertainment Co-chairman Ben Silverman, who critics have predicted will lose his job if the new programs he fostered do not boost the network's ratings. "We're very pleased with the performance and the job that Ben is doing," Zucker said.


It is not included even as a footnote in the obituaries about Paul Newman that have appeared since his death on Friday, but the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Broadcasting) rescued Paul Newman's only singing performance from what had been thought to be oblivion. Newman co-starred with Eva Marie Saint (with whom he sang a duet) and Frank Sinatra in a musical version of Thornton Wilder's Our Town in 1975. The late songwriter Sammy Cahn, who with Jimmy Van Heusen wrote the music for the production, claimed in his 1974 autobiography I Should Care that Wilder was so dubious about turning his play into a musical that he agreed to sell the rights for a single broadcast only and insisted that any kinescope recordings be destroyed after the program was aired. Cahn said that Wilder was in fact so upset with the live telecast that he phoned NBC executives the morning after the telecast and demanded that they fulfill their agreement and destroy all copies. However, a black-and-white copy eventually turned up in the collection of the Paley Center in New York and Beverly Hills. (The show was broadcast in color and aired live across the U.S.; at the time, kinescope recordings were rarely, if ever, made in color.) The show's most memorable tune was "Love and Marriage," which later became the theme of the TV sitcom Married ... With Children.