By James Hibberd
September 30, 2020 at 06:42 PM EDT
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Credit: Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images

Tuesday night's first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden fell in the ratings compared to the first face-off between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

According to Nielsen, 73.1 million people watched the debate across 16 networks and streaming platforms. That's a 13 percent drop from the record total of 84 million for the first Trump-Clinton debate.

The instantly notorious 90-minute bout played out on stage in Cleveland and on social media like something akin to a collective nervous breakdown rather than a reasonable discussion. Nielsen ratings are an average of how many people watched an entire program, so the lower number could have, in theory, been impacted by a certain percentage of viewers switching off early to escape the near-constant cross-talk cacophony that was largely driven by Trump's interruptions, insults, and refusal to follow the debate's agreed-upon structure.

Among the networks, Fox News led with 17.1 million viewers, followed by ABC with 12.1 million, then NBC with 9 million, CNN with 7.9 million, MSNBC with 7 million, CBS with 6.1 million, and Fox with 5.2 million.

Next up, there's a vice presidential debate scheduled between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris on Oct. 7. Then Biden and Trump are supposed to face off a second time on Oct. 15 (though some have wondered if another debate is even going to happen at this point). For true political masochists, there's even a third debate slated for Oct. 22.

The Commission on Presidential Debates released a statement Tuesday saying it will provide moderators of the remaining debates with "additional tools to maintain order" — a rather vague phrase that likely means the ability to mute the mics of the debaters if they speak when it's not their turn.

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