LOS ANGELES (AP) – Even a Yankees-Red Sox playoff game was no match for the TV audience’s interest in the final debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

An estimated 51.2 million viewers watched the candidates in Wednesday’s debate, according to Nielsen Media Research figures released Thursday.

That exceeded the 46.7 million who watched the second debate on Oct. 8 but fell short of the 62.5 million who saw the Sept. 30 match.

The first two debates, however, were carried by seven networks, including the cable news channels, while the third was only on six – the Fox network was broadcasting American and National League championship games.

Fox aired the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals vs. the Houston Astros in different parts of the country, drawing a total of 15.2 million viewers.

Last year’s league championships, between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins and the Yankees-Red Sox, drew 18.4 million viewers.

Wednesday’s games, airing from 8:15-11:30 p.m. EDT, were in direct competition with the 91-minute debate that started at 9 p.m. EDT.

Among the networks, ABC drew the biggest debate audience with 14.5 million viewers. Having the high-rated drama “Lost” as a lead-in to the debate boosted ABC, which had trailed NBC in the other debates.

NBC was second Wednesday with 13.3 million viewers, followed by CBS with 10.7 million. Bob Schieffer of CBS News was the moderator.

Among cable networks, Fox News Channel led with 6.9 million viewers. CNN had 3.7 million and MSNBC had 2.1 million.

Compared to the 2000 election, there was a surge of interest this year. The three debates drew a total of 160.4 million viewers, compared to the 121.9 million who watched the three Bush-Al Gore debates.

Figures showing how viewership changed over the course of the debate were unavailable Thursday, a Nielsen spokeswoman said.

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