The GOP presidential primary debates which had been building a pretty good head of steam in the ratings last year, started to show signs of viewer fatigue this year until Monday’s NBC debate reversed the decline.

Conservatives and other observers had criticized the debate for the slow plodding pace and the questions that were asked in the second hour that covered subjects that had little or no national importnace at a time when the economy and jobs are foremost on voters minds.

Yet despite the complaints and my own prediction that the debate would continue the downtrend in the ratings, it turns out NBC attracted one of the largest audiences to date and shattered the previous high in the key A25-54 demo by a wide margin.

Initial ratings show that 7.1 million viewers tuned in to watch Brian Williams grill the remaining GOP candidates ranking 2nd only behind the ABC debate on December 10 of last year in the current cycle.  Even better for NBC were the nearly 2.6 million viewers in the key A25-54 demo that advertisers crave, easily beating the previous high of 2.1 million set by ABC.

While the format was a little different- Williams had in essence silenced the audience, NBC benefited greatly from Newt Gingrich’s stunning South Carolina primary victory last week which turned the GOP race into a fierce fight.

It also didn’t hurt that Gingrich had a very successful debate last Thursday, when he blasted CNN’s John King for starting the debate off with a question about his second wife’s charges that Newt wanted an “open marriage” which raised the roof and may have raised the hopes of those watching on Monday that Gingrich would take a similar stab at Brian Williams.

But it didn’t happen and instead viewers were treated to one of the worst debates of the election cycle.

Yet with those ratings NBC isn’t about to complain.

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