By Brian Raftery
February 28, 2019

Disgraced (and recently-disbarred) attorney Michael Cohen may not have a future as a lawyer. But, for one day at least, he got to be a TV star like his former client, Donald Trump.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, about 13.5 million viewers tuned in Wednesday to watch the former Trump acolyte as he testified before Congress about his ex-boss. That’s higher than this season’s average weekly ratings for such prime-time hits as This is Us, The Voice, and The Masked Singer. Cohen’s testimony, which stretched from the morning to the late afternoon, was carried in full—or with only occasional interruptions—on every major network, as well as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

The one-day performance, in which Cohen called Trump a “racist” and a “con man,” will likely grow even higher in viewership later this week, when final ratings are calculated, including numbers from NBC.

Even on a busy news day—one that included President Trump’s historic meeting in Vietnam with Korean leader Kim Jong Un—Cohen’s testimony proved irresistible to American audiences, who have long helped turn high-profile political showdowns into ratings events. About 20 million viewers are estimated to have tuned in as Anita Hill testified during Clarence Thomas’ 1991 Supreme Court hearing. Just a few years prior, in the summer of 1987, at least 55 million watched as the Iran-Contra hearings unfolded over several days, highlighted by an appearance from National Security Council staffer Oliver North.

Yet none of those events were as drawn out, nor as widely seen, as the 1973 Watergate hearings that took place on the Senate floor. Though specific viewership figures for the entire event—which ran from May to August—-are hard to come by, an estimated 250 hours of testimony aired across multiple networks (Richard Nixon’s attorney, John Dean, alone testified for about 30 hours). A survey found that 85 percent of American households tuned into hearings at one point that summer.

Cohen’s turn in front of legislators wasn’t anywhere near as popular, though it was a rare day-long ratings victory for the network. Just don’t expect a repeat any time soon: Having pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, Cohen is scheduled to head to prison in early May.

 

 

 

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