The politics-fueled ratings train of "Saturday Night Live" keeps rolling along this election season with Tina Fey's impersonations of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin luring viewers.
"SNL" averaged a 7.4 household rating/18 share in the metered market overnights, Nielsen Media Research said on Sunday afternoon. That's within a tenth of a rating point of its September 13 premiere, which itself was the highest-rated show since December 14, 2002, when Al Gore and Phish appeared.
"SNL" is up 49 percent in the metered markets compared with the first four weeks of last season, as well as up 42 percent this past Saturday compared to episode No. 4 last season.
As expected, Saturday's show was heavy on the politics, spoofing the recent debate between Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden.
For the third time this season, Tina Fey portrayed Palin. Cast member Jason Sudeikis was Biden, and surprise guest Queen Latifah sat in as moderator Gwen Ifill.
Once again, Fey showed that she has cornered the market on Palin impersonations, and her insistence that the GOP ticket would be all "mavericky" gained wide traction on the Web where it could be seen in numerous video postings.
Another funny moment that seemed to strike a chord with audiences was Fey (as Palin) thanking "third graders of Gladys Wood Elementary, who were so helpful to me in my debate prep."
While the rest of the late-night shows have struggled to find their footing following the 2007/2008 writers strike, "SNL" has been on a roll ever since it took on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others at the end of last season.
The show's success with political satire only got bigger and better in September, when "SNL" opened early with a special appearance by Fey as Palin.
"Clearly, 'Saturday Night Live' and Tina Fey's spot-on creation of Sarah Palin is now a part of this election season," said ABC News political director David Chalian. "It does show a frame through which a lot of people see these candidates."
Ifill, who drew controversy before the debate with reports she was writing a book about the rise of African American politicians including Barack Obama, did not escape the satire.
Twice Latifah mentioned the book and the publication date, once Inauguration Day and the other Election Day, and said that it was available for preorder.
Also on the firing line were Biden and Scranton, Pa., the beleaguered northeastern Pennslyvania city that has been invoked by Biden (who grew up there).
"They did equal-opportunity bashing," said CNN political analyst Gloria Borger, noting that it wasn't just Palin who was the target of humor on "SNL."