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Did NBC spoil ratings for ABC's Jackie Kennedy special?

September 14, 2011 |  2:38 pm

Jackie Kennedy

Seventeen years after her death, Jacqueline Kennedy remains a big draw, especially with newly released recordings that find her dishing dirt on everyone from President Lyndon Johnson to Indian leader Indira Ghandi. But a rival network may have spoiled the big party ABC planned for the event.

ABC's two-hour special "Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words" delivered 8.4 million total viewers Tuesday night, according to Nielsen. Host Diane Sawyer picked her way through hours of tapes the former first lady made with historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in early 1964, just months after President Kennedy was assassinated. In the recordings, Jacqueline Kennedy glowingly recounts life with her husband but bashes leaders such as LBJ, Martin Luther King Jr. and Charles de Gaulle. 

The Kennedy ratings outperformed some other recent news specials, such as NBC's "Dateline" sit-down with former Vice President Dick Cheney (5.5 million).

But the numbers were surprisingly light given the huge buildup the Kennedy special had. Earlier this summer, Sawyer's exclusive with former kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard drew 14.8 million viewers -- the most-watched summer newsmagazine telecast in seven years.

Part of the problem may have been competition: ABC executives were reportedly furious after NBC broke an embargo and leaked details of the tapes before ABC could air its special. ABC still had an exclusive with Caroline Kennedy, who wrote the foreword to a new book based on the tapes. But many viewers may have already learned what they wanted to know from NBC and other news accounts.

What did you think of the special?


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-- Scott Collins

Photo: Jacqueline Kennedy in the early 1960s. Credit: AFP/Getty Images