Tuesday TV Ratings: First Presidential Debate Sees Huge Drop From 2016

Donald Trump And Joe Biden Participate In First Presidential Debate
Scott Olson/Getty Images

A sign that maybe even TV viewers are tiring of the 2020 presidential race? The first debate between incumbent Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on September 29 fell in a big way — double digits — from four years ago. On September 26, 2016, the debate between Trump and Senator Hillary Clinton saw the combined four networks bring in 48.8 million viewers.

Looking at broadcast networks for Tuesday, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox together pulled in 27.3 million viewers, a drop of over 21 million viewers. Of those four networks, ABC came out in the lead with 10.9 million viewers followed by NBC with 8.0 million, CBS with 5.3 million, and Fox with 4.5 million. Final numbers later today will more than likely show an adjustment in those numbers.

The night did also provide a solid launch for NBC’s revival of game show Weakest Link, with Jane Lynch hosting. The premiere brought in a strong 1.3 rating and 6.1 million total viewers who tuned in before (or after on the West Coast) the debate.

Here’s the breakdown for Tuesday, September 29, 2020 (numbers are fast-affiliate based):

Time Show Adults 18-49 rating Total Viewers (millions)
8 p.m. The Weakest Link – P  (NBC) 1.3 6.1
Trump V. Biden: The Main Stage (ABC) 1.2 6.3
Cosmos: Possible Worlds (Fox) 0.5 2.0
Whose Line Is It Anyway? – R  (CW) 0.2 1.0
8:30 p.m. Whose Line Is It Anyway – R (CW) 0.2 933,000
9 p.m. First Presidential Debate (ABC) 2.8 10.9
First Presidential Debate  (NBC) 2.2 8.0
First Presidential Debate (Fox) 1.3 4.5
First Presidential Debate  (CBS) 1.2 5.3
Tell Me A Story (CW) 0.1 318,000
10:30 p.m. Debate Analysis (ABC) 2.0 8.0
Debate Analysis (NBC) 1.6 6.1
Debate Analysis (CBS) 0.9 4.2