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Fox GOP debate draws record 24 million viewers

Fox GOP debate draws record 24 million viewers
Fox News anchors (left to right) Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier prepare to moderate the first prime-time Republican presidential debate hosted at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland Thursday. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Thursday's night's GOP debate on Fox News was seen by 24 million viewers, with 7.9 million of them in the key young-adult demographic.

That is the largest audience ever for a primary debate. It's also the largest in the history of Fox News and the largest in all of cable news.

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That's a staggeringly large number for any political event on television. I expected a huge tune-in, but figured it would top out at 10 to 12 million. The most-watched Republican debate in 2012 drew 7.6 million viewers.

By way of comparison, the highest-rated prime-time series on all of television is NBC's "Sunday Night Football," which averages about 20 million a week. Last year's biggest game drew about 24 million.

Read my review here of what I saw as an expertly produced debate featuring 10 GOP candidates and moderators Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace. Kelly was outstanding.

A 5 p.m. debate, moderated by Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum, averaged 6.1 million total viewers and 1.2 million viewers in the A25-54 demo, making it the third-highest primary presidential debate ever for the network. It featured the seven GOP candidates who did not poll high enough to make the prime-time debate.

Jon Stewart's finale drew 3.5 million TV viewers Thursday. That was the second largest audience ever for "The Daily Show." The largest audience, 3.6 million, tuned in for a visit from Barack Obama in 2008.

I have been highly critical of the way Stewart let Obama use his show to sell the president's political agenda in recent years.

The GOP debate also topped Stewart's finale on Twitter.

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