Sure, all the channels covering Tuesday’s election had fancy maps, but only NBC had one painted on an ice rink. Maybe it was the elaborate redesign of Rockefeller Center as ”Democracy Plaza” that helped push NBC over the top on Tuesday night among election-results watchers voting with their remotes. According to early Nielsen estimates, NBC drew 15.7 million viewers during primetime, followed by 13.7 million for ABC and 10.1 million for CBS. On cable, Fox drew its largest primetime audience ever, 8.1 million viewers, followed by 6.2 million for CNN and 2.8 million for MSNBC. Of course, those Nielsen numbers won’t be final until the provisional votes from Ohio are counted.
Even Comedy Central scored big. The Daily Show‘s hourlong live election special drew 2.1 million viewers, more than any other Daily Show broadcast except for the installment following the first presidential debate on Sept. 30, which drew 2.4 million.
The numbers must have been sweet for NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who long ago announced that the 2004 election would be his last hurrah. Brokaw, CBS’ Dan Rather, and ABC’s Peter Jennings have presided over their nightly newscasts for more than 20 years each, but the 64-year-old Brokaw is the first of the Big Three anchors to give up his desk. He’ll pass the baton to Brian Williams on December 2.