(Updates with final numbers, reviews, "Daily Show" ratings)
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES Oct 30 Barack Obama's campaign
"infomercial" was the most-watched telecast in U.S. prime time
on Wednesday, drawing an "American Idol"-size audience that
easily eclipsed even the climax to baseball's World Series.
More than 33.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the
Democratic presidential nominee's paid 30-minute message, aired
on three major broadcast networks and four smaller channels,
Nielsen Media Research reported on Thursday.
The three big networks alone, CBS, NBC and Fox, accounted
for 25.5 million viewers combined -- 1.2 million more than they
drew in the same half hour a week ago, Nielsen said.
By comparison, 19.8 million viewers watched the conclusion
to baseball's World Series championship as the Philadelphia
Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays. The game, ranking as the
night's No. 2 broadcast, was carried by Fox following Obama's
Fox likewise is home to U.S. television's No. 1 series,
"American Idol," which averaged more than 28 million viewers
weekly last season.
But the Illinois senator's infomercial audience was dwarfed
by ratings for the three recent debates between Obama and
Republican rival John McCain, which averaged 57.4 million
viewers on 11 networks. More than 38 million tuned in to see
Obama's speech accepting the Democratic nomination in August.
The infomercial blended pre-taped segments of Obama
directly addressing viewers with a video montage of the nominee
on the campaign trail and ordinary Americans talking about
their economic struggles. Opening with a shot of windblown
fields of grain, it concluded with Obama addressing a live
campaign rally in Florida.
TV critics gave generally positive reviews of the ad, with
The Washington Post's Tom Shales calling it reminiscent in tone
and texture of the "Morning in America" campaign ad produced
for President Ronald Reagan's re-election bid in 1984.
The Obama piece was a throwback to a political advertising
format that was common in the 1950s and '60s.
It marked the first such paid national political telecast
since independent candidate Ross Perot ran one on the eve of
the 1996 election, drawing nearly 22.7 million viewers on three
networks. A series of similar ads supporting his 1992 White
House bid averaged 11.6 million viewers.
Obama's campaign paid an estimated $1 million per network
for its 30-minute spot, which gave both CBS and NBC a
double-digit ratings boost over their regular series
programming in the same half hour a week ago.
Obama's guest appearance later that night on the "The Daily
Show with Jon Stewart" likewise lifted that Comedy Central
cable network program to its biggest audience ever -- 3.6
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)