NEW YORK -- The most popular soap opera on television this week starred Lt. Col. Oliver North in the continuing saga of the Iran-Contra hearings, preliminary ratings figures showed Wednesday.
Ten percent more Americans watched Washington's real-life daytime drama Tuesday than normally tune in to see the soaps, game shows, situation comedies, and cartoons that make up the daytime schedule, according to 'overnight' ratings in 14 cities sampled by the A.C. Nielsen Co.
ABC, NBC, CBS, Public Broadcasting Service and Cable News Network carried the morning and afternoon sessions live to millions of viewers at home and work, but only the home viewing is counted in the Nielsen ratings.
ABC, which draws a massive daytime audience for popular soaps like 'General Hospital' and 'All My Children,' had more viewers than any other network, but 6 percent fewer than normal in the 9 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. periods.
But NBC's viewing was up 13 percent and CBS's was up 3 percent, according to the figures.
ABC had a 6.2 rating and 20 share, NBC had a 4.5 rating and 15 share and CBS had a 4.0 rating and 13 share -- making Tuesday the highest-rated day in the eight-week-long hearings, even higher than the first day.
Each national ratings point represents about 874,000 households and a share is the percentage of operating sets tuned to a particular show.
Washington, where the action took place, had the highest percentage of viewing among the 14 cities, but Detroit, Miami and Philadelphia were close behind.
The ratings figures for North did not approach those set during the Watergate hearings which led to the resignation of President Nixon because there are now dozens more channel choices available to the viewer.
North's testimony, which was aired uninterrupted, may have scored impressive ratings, but it cost the networks heavily in lost advertising revenue. CBS lost $1 million, ABC lost $800,000 and NBC lost $600,000 on the first day.
Over on cable, ratings for CNN also were impressive. Tuesday's 3.2 rating and 9.4 share -- or 1.3 million homes -- represented the best figures since CNN began its non-stop coverage of the hearings eight weeks ago.
Compared to April figures before the hearings began, CNN's ratings are up 220 percent over normal programming.