Mueller? Mueller? Special Counsel’s Testimony Falls Short in TV Ratings

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Television’s Trump bump may be fading. Or perhaps the reticent witness — a career prosecutor who delivered terse, technical answers — was not the type to keep Americans tuned in for a marathon day of viewing.

Whatever the reason, the ratings for Robert S. Mueller III’s congressional testimony on Wednesday failed to match the big viewership for other recent political spectacles.

An average of 13 million Americans watched the former special counsel on the major cable and broadcast networks over the seven-and-a-half hours of questioning, according to statistics released on Thursday by Nielsen.

That audience was smaller than the 19.5 million people who watched James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, describe his dealings with President Trump to Congress in June 2017. Mr. Comey proved a surprising and animated witness, offering memorable one-liners (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”) that attracted about the same audience as Game 2 of that year’s N.B.A. finals.

In terms of ratings, Mr. Mueller’s hearing also fell short of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh in September. That broadcast drew an average of 21 million viewers, who watched hours of testimony that probed difficult questions of gender, class and power.

The Mueller hearings seemed to promise a similarly gripping episode. Here was the author of the Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election in his first unscripted appearance since he had completed the inquiry. Would he expound on whether or not Mr. Trump had obstructed justice? Would he tackle the attacks on his integrity?

Mr. Mueller did defend his report during the back-to-back sessions before the House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee. But he spent much of his time deferring, demurring and issuing short, even one-word, answers. His testimony seemed to lack drama by design.

Still, 13 million viewers is not tiny. The audience beat out Tuesday’s edition of “America’s Got Talent” on NBC, the highest-rated network prime-time show of the week. Nielsen numbers only capture television viewers; millions more may have followed along with Mr. Mueller through social media and streaming video.

Fox News outranked every other network during the Mueller hearing, drawing an average of 3 million viewers. MSNBC attracted 2.4 million people, and CNN had 1.5 million. ABC was the highest-ranked broadcast network, with 2.1 million viewers.

NBC’s coverage, which pre-empted regular daytime programming, had the biggest audience of adults between 25 and 54, the most important demographic for advertisers.



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