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Sarah Palin-Joe Biden show a ratings sensation!

October 3, 2008 |  6:57 pm

Expect network television executives to any minute now start a grass-roots movement with one simple aim: more debates starring Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.Sarah Palin and Joe Biden

The buzz surrounding the Thursday night forum, the only one they're scheduled to have, translated into whopping viewership numbers, the Nielsen Co. reported today.

The figures not only obliterated the previous record for a debate featuring vice presidential candidates -- the 1984 face-off between incumbent George H.W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro -- but tied for second place as the most-watched debate ever.

The 1980 gabfest pitting then-President Jimmy Carter against Ronald Reagan remains secure in the top spot, having attracted 80.6 million viewers.

But the estimated 69.9 million watching the Palin/Biden encounter matched the Nielsen number of a 1992 debate that featured Bush (then president), Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

It had been expected that Thursday's debate would exceed viewership for the initial verbal skirmishing six days earlier between the tops of this year's presidential tickets, John McCain and Barack Obama.

The figure for that debate came in at 52.4 million -- held down, in part, because it occurred on a Friday night, when lots of Americans are otherwise occupied.

But interest surrounding Palin -- both from supporters and detractors -- clearly drove Thursday's numbers to their stratospheric heights. A Nielsen breakdown of viewership in the nation's largest markets showed Baltimore with the highest rating -- 59.1% of the households with televisions in that community were tuned to the debate.

Ranking second, with a 58.3 rating, was the St. Louis market. The debate was held in the area -- at Washington University -- but it already had been established that the community is focused on the campaign. It posted the highest rating (52.1) for the McCain/Obama debate.

The Times' Matea Gold, at our Show Tracker blog, has more on the ratings report.

-- Don Frederick

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Art credit: Jennifer Kohnke/ TMS.TMS

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