October 15, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

It could be that America’s couch potatoes are especially interested in the presidential election this year, as 51.2 million people tuned in to Wednesday’s third and final debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry, more than watched any of the debates in 2000 and 1996, Nielsen reports. Or, it could be that they’re too damn lazy to change the channel. Of all the channels airing the debate, the most popular was ABC (14.5 million), where viewers stuck around after watching the bewildered castaways on the new hit drama Lost. Among cable channels, the top debate carrier was Fox News (6.9 million), where the lead-in was the popular O’Reilly Factor.

The audience was especially large considering that the face-off occurred opposite baseball playoffs on the Fox broadcast network, where 15.2 million tuned in to watch Houston vs. St. Louis or Yankees vs. Red Sox instead of Bush vs. Kerry. Wednesday’s debate scored better than last Friday’s second debate, which drew 46.7 million, or the vice presidential debate, which drew 43.6 million. Only the first Bush-Kerry face-off two weeks ago scored better, with 62.5 million. Still, these have been the most-watched debates since 1992, when another George Bush was running for reelection.

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