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Bracing for TV's Post-Election Blahs

John McCain, Barack Obama Virginia Sherwood /NBC; Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Maybe you can't wait for Election Day to be over. Maybe you can't wait for John McCain, Barack Obama, or perhaps both, to go home.

Maybe you don't work for Saturday Night Live.

Or for Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, David Letterman, Fox News, Anderson Cooper, Keith Olbermann, The View or any other TV show or TV star that, in a fall of crushing economic news, has gotten fat off the presidential campaign.

"This is their Super Bowl," says TVNewser editor Chris Ariens.

Even better, it's a Super Bowl that's lasted all year long, and especially since the late-summer conventions, has driven up ratings, sometimes astronomically.

Consider:

  • NBC's Saturday Night Live, home of the QVC-pitching McCain, the Sarah Palin-spoofing Fey, and the Alec Baldwin-dissing Palin, up nearly 70 percent in the top TV markets over last season.
  • MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olbermann, home of the McCain- and Palin-berating "Special Comment" soliloquies, up 180 percent in viewers from last October to this October, per TVNewser.
  • Fox News, home of Gov. Sarah Palin: An American Woman, up 160 percent among adults 25-54.
  • CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, home of viewers who don't quite fit in at either MSNBC or Fox News, up 238 percent.
  • CBS' Late Show With David Letterman, a beneficiary of a McCain feud—and a McCain make-good appearance, up 5 percent in viewers from last season.  
  • ABC's The View, fresh off its most-watched week ever (thanks, extra-fiery "Hot Topics"), up 12 percent in viewers.
  • Comedy Central's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, fresh off its most-watched episode ever (thanks, Sen. Obama), hot off its most watched October ever. 
  • The Colbert Report, fresh off its most watched episode ever (ditto, Sen. Obama), hot off its most watched October ever.
  • NBC's 30 Rock, fresh off its most-watched episode ever, too (thanks, Tina Fey), up 16 percent in viewers over last season's premiere.

Unfortunately for these shows, what goes up invariably goes down. Maybe in a few weeks. Almost certainly by December.

30 Rock, which benefited from Fey's rising star rather than the campaign, could be an exception. The always-argumentative The View could be another. Others aren't expected to be as fortunate.

"Especially Saturday Night Live will be hurt, perhaps more so if McCain doesn't win, since they've gotten so much mileage out of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin," says Robert Seidman of the ratings site, TVbytheNumbers.com.

Ariens thinks the newsies will bear the brunt of the post-election crash.

"The cable news networks are not going to be able to maintain what they've been doing," says Ariens. "Especially MSNBC, I don't see them maintaining that."

The problem isn't that a President McCain or President Obama administration won't be a good story to watch—or mock. It's that candidate McCain versus candidate Obama arguably is a more compelling story.

"I think a lot of the interest in this stuff is: The election's coming, and who's winning and people picking sides," says Seidman.

Sides will be chosen tomorrow. Ready or not.

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