'SNL' ratings still going strong

Saturday's show a tenth of a point lower than premiere

NEW YORK -- The politics-fueled ratings train of "Saturday Night Live" keeps rolling along -- and it seems to be getting stronger.

"SNL" averaged a 7.4 household rating/18 share in the metered market overnights, Nielsen Media Research said Sunday afternoon. That's within a tenth of a rating point of its Sept. 13 premiere, which itself was the highest-rated show since Dec. 14, 2002, when Al Gore and Phish appeared.

And, as expected, Saturday's show was heavy on the politics. It marked the third appearance this season by Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, along with surprise guest Queen Latifah sitting in as moderator Gwen Ifill and regular cast member Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden. The 11-minute opening number drew rave reviews not only in the ratings but also the blogosphere, where the clip -- and Fey-as-Palin saying the GOP ticket would be all "mavericky" -- gained wide traction overnight. (Watch the clip at THR's Live Feed Blog)

Once again, Fey showed that she's cornered the market on Palin impersonations.

She thanked "the third graders of Gladys Wood Elementary, who were so helpful to me in my debate prep," Fey said.

Biden didn't escape the satire, nor did Ifill, who drew controversy before the debate with word that she was writing a book about the rise of African American politicians including Barack Obama. Twice Latifah mentioned the book and the publication date, once Inauguration Day and the other Election Day, and said that it was available for preorder on Amazon.com.

While the rest of the late-night shows have struggled to find their footing following the writers strike, "SNL" has been on a tear pretty much ever since it took on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others at the end of last season. That only got bigger and better in September, when "SNL" opened early with a special appearance by Fey as Palin.

"Clearly, 'Saturday Night Live' and Tina Fey's spot-on creation of Sarah Palin is now a part of this election season," said ABC News political director David Chalian. "It does show a frame through which a lot of people see these candidates."

CNN political analyst Gloria Borger noted that it wasn't just Palin who was the target of humor in this week's "Saturday Night Live." Also on the firing line were Biden, Ifill and Scranton, Pa., the beleagured northeastern Pennslyvania city that has been invoked by Biden (who grew up there) as well as former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (whose father grew up there).

"They did equal-opportunity bashing," Borger said of "SNL."

And it seems to be a winning formula. "SNL" is up 49% in the metered markets compared with the first four weeks of last season -- and they were earlier in the season too -- as well as up 42% this past Saturday compared to the fourth episode of last season.

Actress Anne Hathaway was the host and The Killers were the musical guest.
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