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ESPN, NFL Sack Political Theater

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Politics may be a spectator sport for people in terrible shape, but election returns just don’t have nearly the drawing power of America’s No. 1 televised obsession, the National Football League.

Despite being saddled with an unpromising matchup between an aging Indianapolis Colts team and the mediocre Houston Texans, the Nov. 1 installment of ESPN’s Monday Night Football still put up big numbers, averaging a week-high 11.9 million total viewers. Peyton Manning threw two TD passes in the Colts’ 30-17 home field victory, giving his team sole possession of first place in the AFC South in a game that drew 6.51 million viewers 18-49.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings, MNF also delivered 6.25 million adults 25-54 and 3.27 million viewers 18-34, making it the most-watched program on basic cable for the week ended Nov. 7.

Bristol also drew a crowd with its Nascar Sprint Cup racing coverage, averaging 4.85 million viewers late Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.-7 p.m.). On Saturday, Illinois and Michigan let fly in a triple-overtime bombing raid; the Wolverines prevailed 67-65, in a wild and wooly thriller seen by a national TV audience of 4.33 million viewers in the early Saturday slot (noon-3:52 p.m.).

On the week, ESPN swept the key demos in prime, averaging 1.77 million viewers 18-49 and 1.69 million adults 25-54. The sports net averaged 3.51 million total viewers, beating out Fox News Channel by some 523,000 total viewers.

Bolstered by its midterm election coverage. FNC averaged 2.99 million viewers in prime, of which 28 percent, or 826,000, were members of the target news demo. FNC closed out the week ranked fifth among adults 25-54, trailing only ESPN, USA Network (1.14 million), History (892,000) and TNT (834,000).

FNC also finished ninth among the 18-49 demo, averaging 601,000 in prime for the week.

From 8 p.m. to midnight, FNC’s coverage of the Nov. 2 midterm election returns drew an average crowd of 6.78 million viewers. Of that total, 36 percent, or 2.43 million viewers, were in the 25-54 demo. FNC put up its biggest numbers on the night at 9 p.m., drawing 7.17 million viewers; the following hour saw the network serve up its highest demo tally (2.61 million adults 25-54).

USA took third on the week, averaging 2.86 million viewers, a draw that included 1.14 million adults 25-54 and 1.07 million viewers 18-49. Both deliveries made USA No. 2 in its target demos.

Closing out the top five among all ad-supported cable nets were TNT (1.82 million viewers) and History (1.76 million).

In its second week, AMC’s The Walking Dead continued to spread fear among cable subs, drawing 4.71 million viewers Sunday night at 10 p.m. That marked an 88 percent retention of its premiere delivery (5.35 million), prompting a speedy renewal of the series by AMC. The Dead also shambled into the living rooms of some 3.34 million viewers 18-49, a delivery that represents a 94 percent retention rate versus last week’s 3.57 million.

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel finished fourth among all basic-cable nets, averaging 2.56 million total viewers. The Mouse enjoyed a boost from a one-hour episode of Hannah Montana Forever, which drew 7.11 million viewers Sunday from 7:30-8:30 p.m., and the premiere of its new musical-comedy strip, Shake It Up. The half-hour series opener retained 87 percent of its HMF lead-in, drawing 6.2 million viewers in the 8:30 p.m. time slot.

Shake It Up now stands as Disney Channel’s No. 2 most-watched series premiere in its history. The debut also delivered 2.8 million ‘tweens 9-14 and 2.6 million kids 6-11.

Disney once again ran away with the key kiddie demos last week, averaging 1.04 million kids 6-11 in prime and 972,000 ‘tweens 9-14.