On the third day that impeachment hearings blanketed American televisions, from morning talk shows to late-night monologues, Representative Devin Nunes came out with a public service announcement.
“TV ratings are way down, way down,” Mr. Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, declared — on live television — to a pair of witnesses seated before him in Congress. “Whatever drug deal the Democrats are cooking up from the dais, the American people aren’t buying it.”
Mr. Nunes was wrong.
In fact, America’s impeachment drama, titled “Days of Our Impeachment” on a recent “Saturday Night Live,” is drawing “Monday Night Football”-level viewership. On some days, its ratings have topped popular procedurals like “NCIS.”
After five full days of hearings across two weeks, the average live TV viewership for impeachment has been roughly 12 million people, according to Nielsen. Ratings have dipped slightly from a peak on Day 1, Nov. 13, which drew an audience of 13.1 million, but the drop-off is less than what many sitcoms see after a season premiere.
And the numbers for cable news are superlative: Last week, Fox News notched its highest-rated week of the year in terms of total viewership. MSNBC enjoyed the best week in its 23-year history for total viewers.
Politics is driving television these days. Impeachment has upended networks’ daytime schedules, where the usual diversions of soap operas and “Ellen”-style chat shows have been usurped by stone-faced government officials offering soliloquies on Ukrainian politics.
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., viewership of the big cable news networks — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — on impeachment days has been nearly double the average from a year ago, according to Nielsen.
Partisan talk shows are doing particularly well. On Fox News, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson earned close to their biggest audiences of the year, with Mr. Hannity at one point zooming past 4.4 million viewers. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow’s average viewership during impeachment has put her on track for one of her best-ever ratings months.
CNN has not matched the numbers of Fox News and MSNBC, but its evening anchors, like Anderson Cooper, are seeing some of their highest ratings of the year.
If any group appears to have suffered from the fatigue brought on by the all-day political coverage, it is the cadre of Democrats running for president. A prime-time debate in Atlanta on Wednesday, the fifth of the year, drew the smallest live viewership of the Democratic primary campaign so far, with 6.6 million tuning in to MSNBC.
That debate followed roughly 11 hours of live testimony, a test for even the most dedicated TV political junkie. And it featured 10 candidates who have grown familiar to viewers, whereas the impeachment hearings, like the Watergate sessions of the 1970s, are minting a fresh group of small-screen stars.
Previously obscure civil servants, like Fiona Hill, a former White House Russia expert, and Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, are suddenly household names. On his CBS late-night show on Tuesday, Stephen Colbert delivered a riff on the decorated résumé of Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, joking, “The only way Vindman could be more all-American is if he appeared in a Ken Burns documentary about the Statue of Liberty — which he did as a child.”
Seizing the moment, late-night comedy shows are scrambling to book political figures and pundits. In the last couple of weeks, Mr. Colbert welcomed the MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace and Senator Kamala Harris of California. On NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” the host, who rarely wades into politics, made an exception last week when he chatted about impeachment with Ms. Maddow.
The impeachment-focused fare seems to be working: Mr. Colbert is soundly beating his rivals Mr. Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel of ABC in the ratings.
Not to be outshone on his favorite medium, President Trump took to the airwaves himself on Friday morning, calling into “Fox & Friends” for a 53-minute-long defense of his actions, in which he asserted a number of falsehoods about Ukraine.
Over all, Fox News is the most popular venue for daytime viewers to watch the congressional hearings. The network averaged about 2.5 million people over five days of coverage, according to Nielsen.
MSNBC was a close second, and edged closer to Fox News during the proceedings. On Thursday, MSNBC pulled in more viewers than Fox News between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
The dominance of Fox News and MSNBC — which have far outstripped CNN and the broadcast networks — is another sign that viewers are flocking to more opinionated outlets where coverage is likely to reflect their ideological point of view.
Television ratings are an idiosyncratic form of measurement, so some caveats apply. The ratings cited here are based on six networks — ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, NBC and MSNBC — and do not reflect viewers who opted to live-stream the proceedings online, listen on the radio, or watch C-Span or PBS.
That means the overall audience for impeachment is even bigger. And many Americans pay attention through reporting and snippets on nightly newscasts or prime-time cable news.
John Koblin contributed reporting.
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