The big debate — the one between Alec Baldwin and Jim Carrey — was a winner in the ratings.
“Saturday Night Live” scored its biggest season premiere audience in four years and second best in 12 years, emphasizing the importance of presidential election time for the NBC comedy show.
Its “cold open” featured Baldwin, portraying President Donald Trump, satirizing last week's debate performance. Carrey debuted with his impersonation of Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
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During a busy week for news and sports, “Saturday Night Live” was the most-watched entertainment show, despite starting at 11:35 p.m. on the East Coast, the Nielsen company said. It was shown live across the country, which meant it aired during prime time in the West.
With 8.24 million viewers, it was the second most-watched “SNL” episode since May 2017, with the exception being last December's triumphant return of Eddie Murphy.
It was also a return to its familiar New York studio for the comedy show, which did a few remote episodes last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The strong ratings overshadowed some rough reviews. “The Late Shift” author Bill Carter called it a “standout — not in a good way” for some uniformly flat skits.
“We needed ‘Saturday Night Live’ to rise to the occasion for this moment, and it didn't,” agreed Eric Deggans, critic for National Public Radio. “Let's hope the nation's firehose of news will slow a bit, and the show will have time to catch its breath and raise its game.”
NBC was the most-watched broadcast network last week, averaging 5.5 million viewers in prime time. Fox had 3.9 million viewers, ABC had 3.8 million, CBS had 2.7 million, Univision had 1.14 million, Ion Television had 1.11 million and Telemundo had 1 million.
Fox News Channel topped the cable networks with an average of 5.18 million viewers in prime time. ESPN had 3.9 million, CNN had 2.85 million, MSNBC had 2.8 million and HGTV had 1.16 million.
ABC's “World News Tonight” won the evening news ratings race with an average of 8.2 million viewers, NBC's “Nightly News” had 7.3 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 5.4 million.
For the week of Sept. 28-Oct. 4, the top 20 prime-time programs, their networks and viewerships:
1. Presidential Debate, Fox News, 17.88 million.
2. NFL Football: Philadelphia at San Francisco, NBC, 15.08 million.
3. NFL Football: Kansas City at Baltimore, ESPN, 14.7 million.
4. “Debate Preview,” Fox News, 12.96 million.
5. Presidential Debate, ABC, 12.65 million.
6. “Debate Analysis,” Fox News, 12.58 million.
7. “60 Minutes,” CBS, 10.76 million.
8. “NFL Sunday Night Pre-Game,” NBC, 9.86 million.
9. Presidential Debate, NBC, 9.69 million.
10. “Debate Analysis,” ABC, 8.71 million.
11. Presidential Debate, CNN, 8.33 million.
12. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” (Tuesday), Fox News, 8.29 million.
13. “Debate Analysis,” CNN, 8.12 million.
14. NBA Finals: Miami vs. L.A. Lakers (Game 1), ABC, 7.58 million.
15. “Football Night in America,” NBC, 7.53 million.
16. Presidential Debate, MSNBC, 7.21 million.
17. “Hannity” (Tuesday), Fox News, 7.16 million.
18. “Monday Night Kickoff,” ESPN, 7.01 million.
19. “Debate Analysis,” MSNBC, 6.97 million.
20. “Debate Analysis,” NBC, 6.94 million.