Last night's three-hour Republican primary debate-athon was CNN's highest-rated program ever, proving the Trump-featuring debates are some of the most popular TV shows of the year, CNN reports. The main debate drew an average of 22.9 million viewers (the earlier undercard debate got 6.3 million), and Fortune reports one in seven US households were watching the candidates give themselves Secret Service code names. "These are," in the words of CNN, "NFL-level ratings." Before last night, the cable news network's highest-rated show ever was a 1993 special episode of Larry King Live featuring Al Gore and Ross Perot (seriously?) that averaged 16.8 million viewers (wait, seriously?) and that Deadline describes as a "trainwreck."
Last night's event also, obviously, set network records for primary debates, CNN reports. Previously, its most-watched primary debate was in 2008 when an average of 8.3 million viewers tuned in to watch Barack Obama take on Hillary Clinton. During the last presidential election, primary debates only averaged between 4 million and 5 million viewers at this point. However, CNN's numbers are still lower than those for the August GOP primary debate on Fox News, which averaged 24 million viewers. CNN reports its longer debate format—three hours versus Fox's two hours—may have led to viewers changing the channel as the evening wore on. The next Republican primary debate is scheduled for Oct. 28, at which point CNBC will be the lucky network on the receiving end of the ratings boost.