News, comedy shows benefit from scandal Television: 'Nightline' and 'Politically Incorrect' are among topical programs attracting bigger audiences this week.

January 29, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

All the hullabaloo about President Clinton's libido is translating into some impressive numbers for ABC's late-night programming.

"Nightline," which was born in response to a political crisis (hostage-taking in Iran) and always attracts more viewers on big-news days, is holding true to form. Based on figures from the country's top 50 television markets (overall ratings for last week weren't available until this morning), Ted Koppel and his gang are attracting 40 percent more viewers since allegations surfaced that the president had sexual relations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"When there's a large breaking news story, people come to 'Nightline,' " said Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for ABC News. "Plus, it's a Washington-based story and it's a Washington-based program."

The scandal is also attracting viewers to "Politically Incorrect," where the news has been fodder for host Bill Maher ever since it broke a week ago.

For Monday and Tuesday of last week, "Politically Incorrect" averaged a 3.4 rating (each rating translates to roughly 980,000 viewing households). Since Wednesday, Jan. 21, the show has been averaging a 4.1 rating, an increase of 28 percent.

And it's not only the late-night crowd that's hungry for information about Lewinsky and the president. NBC's "Today" program drew near-record ratings for its interview Tuesday morning with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton; the show's 7.2 rating was its second-highest since overnight ratings were first measured in 1987 (the first half-hour of the show, during which the first lady was interviewed, scored an impressive 8.0 rating).

Viewers seem to be spending more time with the cable news networks also; ratings for CNBC's prime-time programming climbed 14 percent once the president's peccadilloes became the prime topic of conversation. Viewership of CNN has nearly doubled, spokeswoman Maggie Simpson said.

But the public infatuation with Clinterngate clearly has its limits. A "48 Hours" broadcast on CBS last week dedicated to the scandal brought ratings "definitely no higher than what the show has been doing," said CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius. And ratings for the networks' evening news shows have stayed relatively constant: measured against two weeks ago, ABC climbed 6 percent last week, while CBS and NBC both fell 1 percent.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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