Sarah Palin
Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The night’s most-anticipated show — the vice-presidential debate — scored huge ratings on Thursday night, with overnight Nielsen results showing that the contest between Republican nominee Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden could be one of the most-watched debates in history. ABC (just barely) snagged the most viewers (11.8 million), followed by NBC’s 11.6 million and CBS’ 11.4 million. Though totals have not yet been released, Nielsen reports that ratings in the country’s 55 biggest markets were 42 percent higher than they were for the presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama last Friday, which netted 10.2 million for ABC, 7.8 million for NBC, and 7.6 million for CBS. Those early numbers could change slightly when they’re finalized, but if they hold steady, they’d make it the highest-rated V.P. debate in history, passing 1984’s George Bush-Geraldine Ferraro showdown — viewers love a male-female matchup!

Ugly Betty and Survivor felt the standard post-premiere-week letdown in their second outings this fall. According to overnight ratings, Betty (8.6 million viewers) lost 1.3 million viewers since last week, though that’s not far off from its 8.7 million average last season. Survivor (12.9 million) dropped only 200,000 viewers compared with last week, but that’s almost 2 million below its average for last fall’s China-set season.

NBC’s double dose of My Name Is Earl actually ticked up slightly, from 6.4 million last week to this week’s 6.6 million at 8 p.m. and 7.4 million at 8:30 p.m. The CW’s Smallville (4 million) nearly matched its 4.2 million average from last year; Supernatural (3.6 million), meanwhile, kept with the net’s overall upswing this season, beating its 2007-08 average by 400,000.

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Supernatural recap