The GOP-debate bump was powerful but brief for CNN last week after the Republican field of presidential candidates traded blows in Simi Valley, California. Despite drawing 23 million viewers Wednesday night for the duration of the debate, CNN's viewership dropped 97 percent during the same 8-11 p.m. slot the day after and 21 percent further the day after that, according to Nielsen. Drop-off in the 25-54 age demographic was higher, at 98 percent and 30 percent, according to early Nielsen numbers.
Back to regularly scheduled programming, CNN fell to third place, behind Fox News and MSNBC in total viewers with only 764,000 overall. It was a different story for Fox News, which commanded a lead in all of basic cable in both prime time and total viewers weeks after it hosted the first GOP presidential debate in early August.
CNN did emerge with the No. 2 spot in prime-time programming on basic cable by the end of the week, but was unable to reach the top position, held by ESPN. Fox News came in third, followed by USA and TBS.
The two news networks had distinct styles in hosting their debates: Unlike the moderators at Fox News, who adopted a fairly confrontational pose before the candidates and asked pointed questions, CNN's moderator, Jake Tapper, directed the GOP contenders to go after each other, asking questions primed to maximize candidate-on-candidate conflict.
CNN spent the following days breaking down the "key" moments from the debate and hyping Carly Fiorina as a new front-runner due to her performance on the night and her subsequent rise in a CNN/ORC poll.
Leading candidate Donald Trump appeared to turn over a new leaf after the CNN debate and opted not to start a flame war with the network as he did for several weeks after the Fox event.
“I think we’ve got a really talented set of people,” a relatively mellow Trump told CNN's "New Day" anchor Chris Cuomo minutes after the debate wrapped up.