ABC Debate Wins, But Draws Ire

Although the presidential race has already lasted longer than most of the new primetime series introduced last September, viewers continue to be captivated by the ongoing battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The April 16 debate carried on ABC News scored record viewership for this campaign, and beat the previous record, also held by ABC.

The Wednesday debate was watched by 10.7 million viewers. That edged out the previous high of 9.36 million for the network's Democratic debate in New Hampshire in January.

Last week's debate aired six days before the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania.

The debate, co-hosted by ABC News, Philadelphia O&O WPVI and the National Constitution Center, was moderated by Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. It gave ABC its best total-viewer tune-in for the 8 p.m.-10 p.m. time period since November 2007 and its best 18-49 demo rating since February.

In fact, the first hour of Wednesday's debate also won the 8 p.m. time period among total viewers and the 18-49 demo against all networks, though from 9 to 10 p.m., it was predictably slaughtered by Fox's American Idol, which attracted 23.3 million viewers. was inundated with more than 10,000 e-mails from viewers upset at the tone and content of the debate questions. The network addressed the controversy on its newscast last Thursday night.

Most of the criticism was directed at Gibson and Stephanopoulos for frontloading the debate with non-issue-related questions. Viewers and media critics directed particular ire at the moderators' questions about Obama's former pastor's incendiary statements, his relationship with a former 1960s radical and his reluctance to wear an American flag lapel pin.