Seth Shapiro's Business Innovation Blog

The TV story of the week has been the kickoff of the 2016 election cycle, beginning with last week’s Republican Primary debates, starring Donald Trump.

Televised presidential debates occupy a major place in television history, and have become a critical component of American politics. So first, we’ll unpack the stats around last week’s event. Then we’ll look at the debate that created the genre.

The FOX Primary Debate

Last week’s debate was the most-viewed event in the history of FOX News, with 24 million viewers. That’s roughly 30% higher the season finale of Empire, double The Voice’s best 2015 ratings, and about 800% more viewers Jon Stewart’s final The Daily Show. That’s pretty big – though not as big as Trump’s The Apprentice Season 1 finale, which had 28 million viewers – which is the under-reported key to this success.

The driver of these ratings, as Vox correctly notes, is Trump’s years of experience in the medium itself. But his antecedent here is not Richard Hatch – it’s the man who put debates on the map in the first place.

To that point, this is not a big rating in terms of presidential debates, with which it has been wrongly compared. In 1980, Reagan/Carter had over 80 million viewers. Obama/Romney had over 67 million viewers. And in terms of influence, they’re all dwarfed by the one that came first, the one that reinvented American presidential politics.

Rest of story… the New York Observer.

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