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8.4M people watch ABC's Kennedy tapes special

Fifty years on, Camelot has little apparent fascination for young people.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fifty years on, Camelot has little apparent fascination for young people.

The majority of the 8.4 million people who watched ABC's two-hour special featuring a previously-unheard interview with former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy had personal memories of the Kennedy administration. The Nielsen ratings company said just under 2 million of those viewers were aged 18 to 49.

More people in that youthful demographic watched reruns of "NCIS: Los Angeles" on CBS at the same time Tuesday or saw contestants dropping into the water on ABC's "Wipeout" earlier in the night.

"Young people just don't care about old people on TV," said Bill Gorman, co-founder of the TV By The Numbers website, which analyzes television ratings. "It's just the way it works."

Still, add in the older viewers and it's a much larger audience than ABC is accustomed to on a Tuesday night this summer. The Kennedy special grew in ratings as the night went on and was more popular than the season premiere of NBC's "Parenthood," Nielsen said. ABC said it was happy with the ratings.

A book based on the interviews, conducted by historian and former Kennedy aide Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. four months after the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy, topped the best-seller list on on the day of release Wednesday. The book was published by Hyperion Books, owned like ABC by the Walt Disney Co.

ABC's much-anticipated broadcast of portions of the interview on Tuesday had been scooped — first by The Associated Press, which ran details from the book last Thursday, and then by NBC, which broadcast its own report Friday.

The 8.4 million viewers compared with the 14.8 million people who watched Diane Sawyer's interview with former kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard in July. Television viewership generally picks up from the summer after Labor Day.

ABC noted, however, that Sawyer's special on the Kennedy tapes drew more than twice the 3.5 million people who watched the reality game show "Take the Money and Run" and the drama "Combat Hospital" in the same time slot a week ago.

The special also was likely very inexpensive for ABC to put together, Gorman said. Sawyer filmed an interview with Kennedy daughter Caroline Kennedy and a few historians, showed film clips and played audiotapes. And if it boosted sales of the book, so much the better for Disney, he said.

"Some people in New York and Washington cared about this, and old people all over the country," said Gorman, who's 51. "The Kennedy fascination is really quite concentrated these days."