This season, NBC's The Voice has averaged nearly 11 million viewers per episode. Each episode of ABC's Dancing With The Stars brings in over 12 million viewers. They're among the highest-rated programs on Primetime TV for the season, a pattern that's held for over a decade, since the first episode of American Idol took hold of American television and never let go.
Reality Television, right?
Nope – Election Television.
So when we see that 59.2 million people watched the third Presidential debate, this is really an extension of a well-established dynamic. It may have taken over 200 years, but television has done its part to get people interested in the democratic process. Finally, it's hip to vote.
Sure, Presidential debates have had their share of impact upon the country. Nixon/Kennedy, Reagan/Carter, Lincoln/Douglas – each debate was a very public example of the direct influence a debate at the highest level of our electoral process has on our government. But as an agent of social change, Clay Aiken/Ruben Studdard had an impact in its own way.
The fact is that the casting of a ballot is one of the most sacrosanct responsibilities each citizen holds within a free democracy. Each and every one of us should consider it duty, honor, and privilege to vote in every election held. Could it be that it took a television show to get many people comfortable with participating in the democratic process? That is, since many avoided voting under the mistaken belief that it would lead to them being called for jury duty.
Who didn't watch American Idol? Who wouldn't want to make sure that their favorite stayed out of the "bottom three" each week? TV made voting popular again (said with absolutely no hyperbole, of course)!
We still watch "voting shows" such as The Voice, X-Factor, Dancing With The Stars, Survivor, American Idol, et al. Along with NFL Football, they're always among the highest rated programs on television – necessitating the term "scripted television" for what used to be just "television," for the most part.
But over 59 million people tuned in to watch two men debate foreign policy. The same night that "America's Pastime" delivered 8.1 million viewers for a MLB Game 7, do-or-die, win or go home National League Championship. The NFL, all but crowned America's new pastime by now, brought in 10.7 million viewers for a Monday Night Football game opposite them both.
In all, the three Presidential Debates brought in 67 million viewers for the first debate and 65.6 million for the second. 59 million was the smallest audience of the three.
American politics have become American sport. And Americans love their sports. But even more so, Americans love their country.
We've invested our time as the audience. Now it's our duty, our honor, and our privilege to participate by voting on November 6th. There's no debating how important each of us is to this process.
That night, those same broadcasters who made it possible for you to vote during those shows that you love will be there to tell you who won the election to lead the country that you love.
Don Seaman joined the TVB in January 2012 as Manager of Marketing Communications, where he is responsible for promoting and raising awareness of the TVB, and of Local Broadcast Television’s value propositions within the traditional and digital media industries. Don can be reached at email@example.com.
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