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Did 'SNL' fuel Brian Williams' ratings spike?

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Brian_lScore one for Brian Williams (sort of). As network news broadcasts hemorrhage viewers, the anchor got a little bit of good news this week. With an average 9.2 million viewers tuning in, his NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams beat ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson and CBS’ Evening News with Katie Couric in the November ratings race. Nielsen also reports that Williams is tops (albeit barely—Gibson lagged by only one tenth of a ratings point) with the ever-desirable 25-54 demographic.

Pop-culture junkies might think that Williams’ surprisingly funny Nov. 3 stint hosting Saturday Night Live is what pushed him into first place (it certainly won me over, and here I’d written him off as  insufferable soon after he inherited Brokaw’s chair). That said, the numbers show that Williams actually lost total viewers in the year since the sweeps period of November 2006.

Now, here’s the thing: Do you know anyone who tunes in, with any regularity, to the evening news to catch up on current events? I don’t. Who can wait till dinnertime to digest the news of the day? That’s what bookmarks on your browser are for! Which makes me wonder: How long before network news broadcasts can no longer measure viewership in the millions and decide to just throw in the towel (to the mournful wails of traditionalist news junkies)?

And far be it from me to be glib about the format’s grim future (much respect, ghost of Edward R. Murrow), but Williams really should keep those comedy chops honed. You never know when an Anchorman sequel will start shooting—could there be any more perfect casting than NBC’s newsman as Will Ferrell’s next gravitas-gifted nemesis?

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