TV's Hottest Show: 'America's Next Commander In Chief!'

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

Forget Survivor. Forget America's Next Top Model. TV's newest reality hit is America's Next Commander in Chief, starring, strangely, Sarah Palin.

Knowing that it would boost ratings, CBS chief Les Moonves could not contain his glee when the Alaska Governor joined the hotly contested race. "We think it's going to be more exciting and more vicious," he said, "and we like that."

The race hasn't been particularly vicious, but it has pulled down the kind of numbers that give Moonves and his cronies goosebumps.

During the conventions, acceptance speeches by the candidates at the top of the ticket…plus that lady from Alaska…were watched by 40 million Americans each – that's more than tuned in for the finale of American Idol, the Academy Awards or the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

But even those numbers were dwarfed by the 70 million people that tuned in for the debate between vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin and that other guy, what's his name. In fact, Nielsen reported that their ratings in the nation's biggest markets were 42 percent higher than numbers for the McCain/Obama debate. By the way, if you're wondering, the presidential debate ratings champ is still the 1980 face-off between incumbent President Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan, which attracted a whopping 80.6 million viewers.

The fact that Palin/Biden debate out-pulled the Obama/McCain showdown says as much about the vagaries of the TV business as anything about the actual race.

After all, the VP's got a prime spot on a Thursday, TV's most watched night of the week, while the P's were relegated to Friday night, that wasteland of TV viewing. And while Republicans gloated over the fact that audience for John McCain's acceptance speech edged out Obama's, the Dems are quick to point out that having the NFL season opener as lead-in didn't hurt McCain much.

Of course, it's not just the convention and debates that have been bringing in eyes, ears and ad dollars. Anytime the news shows, the chat shows or even the entertainment shows have gone political, they seem to have gotten a ratings bump. Saturday Night Live, in particular, should send a thank you card to John McCain for picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. SNL's numbers are up almost 50% from last season due mostly to Tina Fey's uncanny send-up of the hockey mom from Wasilla. Though it's worth noting that even with those big numbers, more people have seen Fey do Palin online than on-air.

I have to think that between now and election day, the network's programming people will be racking their brains to figure out how to capitalize on all this interest in politics. Here's my modest proposal. Assuming Sarah Palin is not too busy presiding over the Senate, she and Hillary Clinton should host a weekday chat show. Think about it; if the lightweight bickering between liberal Rosie O'Donnell and conservative Elizabeth Hasselbeck could bump ratings for The View, wouldn't you expect a huge audience for two political stars who already have rabid followings? To lighten it up, there could be a cooking segment. Palin could teach Clinton how to make moose…and Clinton could show Palin how to make reservations.

I'd love to know what you think. Send me an e-mail at You can podcast this commentary, share it with a friend, or embed it on your blog with the click of a button from our new media player at For KCRW, I'm Matt Holzman.

Banner image: Saturday Night Live's spoof on the Vice Presidential Debate, featuring Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden and Tina Fey as Sarah Palin.



Matt Holzman