JFK Programming Brings Ratings Surges Ahead of Wall-to-Wall Coverage

As news networks and programs devote much of the Nov. 22 airtime to the 50th anniversary of the president's assassination, earlier coverage shows a clear interest from viewers.
John F. Kennedy

It's been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot in Dallas, and television (both news and entertainment networks) has responded with a glut of programming all through November. The remembrances are culminating with wall-to-wall coverage on Nov. 22, and if earlier specials are any indication, viewers are likely responding.

A variety of JFK specials, tributes and telepics have brought big ratings over the last two weeks. Perhaps most notably, this past weekend's attention from the Sunday morning shows brought highs not seen in over a decade.

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CBS Sunday Morning With Charles Osgood, devoting a special edition to JFK, surged to its largest audience since Feb. 4, 1996. The 6.23 million viewers easily topped the morning's competition and outperformed the typical ratings seen from weekday champs Good Morning America and Today. The surge was less significant in the targeted adults 25-54 demographic, up 15 percent from the same day last year to a 1.6 rating. (CBS Sunday Morning last hit a demo score that high as recently as May.)

The network scored another victory with Face the Nation. Up a whopping 52 percent, week to week, the Bob Schieffer broadcast brought in 4.57 million viewers for a 12-year high. (The weekly series last brought in an audience as large during its first broadcast after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2011.) Later that night, a special JFK-centric 48 Hours beat even college football in the 9 p.m. hour. Meet the Press, which has been suffering from 21-year lows on NBC, did see more modest boosts in its coverage. It grew 9 percent among total viewers to 2.23 million viewers.

Over on cable, CNN, which has been seeing more success with documentaries than its regular lineup, topped Sunday night with The Assassination of President Kennedy. The special averaged 720,000 viewers and 201,000 adults 25-54 in its initial telecast. On the scripted side, Killing Kennedy proved to be a ratings win for Nat Geo. The telepic brought a network record with 3.4 million viewers tuning into its Nov. 10 premiere.

One of the biggest investments in JFK programming came from PBS. The public broadcaster reports that its specials -- including episodes of Nova, Secrets of the Dead and American Experience -- have grossed 11.7 million viewers ahead of specials from Frontline and PBS Newshour.

A clear picture of how the actual anniversary day coverage fared won't be available until Monday, Nov. 25. But with Kennedy programming culminating on the already popular morning shows and cable news, further bumps are likely.