ABC’s Farrah Fawcett hour emerged as the most popular of the instant news specials broadcast Thursday night as networks rushed to deal with the stunning deaths of two pop culture icons.
Primetime on much of broadcast TV took on the feel of E! or VH1 as images of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett filled the airwaves, with no less than four different programs on three networks vying for viewers.
ABC’s Barbara Walters-hosted "20/20" special on former "Charlie’s Angel" star Farrah Fawcett generated the biggest audience of all the coverage among adults 18-49. It averaged a 2.3/7 in the demo from 10-11 p.m.
CBS’s "The Life and Death of Michael Jackson," airing in the same timeslot, scored a 1.9/6, ranking second for the hour.
NBC’s two-hour "Dateline," with a split focus on both Jackson and Fawcett, earned a 1.7/5 from 9-11 p.m. During the 10 p.m. hour, NBC’s coverage also averaged a 1.6/5.
Among all viewers, in the 10 p.m. hour, "20/20" notched 8.3 million viewers, vs. 7.6 million for CBS and 5.8 million for NBC.
At 9 p.m., ABC’s Michael Jackson special averaged a 1.7/5, tying the first hour of NBC’s "Dateline."
Because there were more shows devoted to Jackson, his passing clearly generated the most combined interest from viewers. Still, it’s noteworthy that ABC was able to emerge in first place at 10 p.m. with coverage of Fawcett, even though the network was up against two Jackson specials.
Cable news ratings, to be released later today, will no doubt show a huge explosion of viewer interest as well.
Meanwhile, Fox opted against any primetime coverage of the Jackson or Fawcett deaths, yet still won the night.
"So You Think You Can Dance" (2.5/7) was the No. 1 show of the night, though it was down from last week (2.9/9). And a repeat "Bones" (1.4/5) also won its hour.