(Updates with final national Nielsen figures)
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama’s final debate of the U.S. presidential race drew 56.5 million television viewers, falling between the audience tallies of their two previous face-offs.
Viewership of the 90-minute debate on Wednesday likely was diminished by the Fox network’s baseball telecast of the decisive Game 5 victory of the Philadelphia Phillies over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
In Philadelphia, the fourth-largest TV market in the United States, more viewers tuned in to the game than the debate on all other networks combined, Nielsen Media Research said on Thursday. Los Angeles is the nation’s second-largest TV market.
With the Nov. 4 election looming, 35 percent of all homes in the United States watched McCain and Obama spar over economic turmoil, health care, taxes and other issues, Nielsen reported.
That was higher than the household rating of 31.6 percent, or 52.4 million viewers, for their first debate on Sept. 26 but lower than the 38.8 percent of homes, or 63.2 million viewers, for their second match-up on Oct. 7.
It was also lower than the Oct. 2 showdown between the vice presidential candidates, Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden, the most-watched nationally televised debate in 16 years with nearly 70 million viewers.
As usual, reviews were mixed, with many commentators saying McCain improved his performance over the two previous debates. But some said his body language may have worked against him.
Two snap viewer polls, by CBS and CNN, again judged Obama the winner.
CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer got generally high marks as moderator of the debate, which was widely viewed as more spirited and contentious than the previous two. (Editing by John O‘Callaghan)