Sean Spicer’s daily briefings, carried live by the major cable-news networks, are drawing an average 4.3 million viewers, according to data from Nielsen.
He is no match for “The Young and the Restless.” But he is beating “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary whose early tenure has prompted political fireworks and late-night parodies, may be struggling to settle in behind the lectern. On the airwaves, however, he is daytime television’s new big hit.
Spicer’s briefings, carried live by the major cable-news networks, are pulling in an average 4.3 million viewers, according to data from Nielsen. Audiences across Fox News, MSNBC and CNN grow by an average 10 percent when Spicer comes on-screen to discuss the latest news on President Trump, statistics show.
The soap opera at the White House is outscoring real soaps such as “General Hospital” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which typically air around the same time. Spicer’s ratings are on par with prime-time entertainment such as “MasterChef Junior” on Fox and the ABC sitcom “Dr. Ken,” which draw about 4 million viewers each.
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The big ratings offer a measure for what has become a truism in Washington, D.C.: Three weeks into the Trump administration, Spicer’s daily joust with reporters — peppered with fiery exchanges, memorable malapropisms and some much-discussed dissembling — are must-see TV for the political class.
“There’s huge interest in everything Trump does, and Sean is benefiting from that,” said Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who helped lead Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. “Depending on your perspective, you either tune in to watch Sean defend the indefensible, or to watch media bias in action.”
The interest in Spicer’s briefings coincides with a spike in cable-news viewership overall. Since Inauguration Day, Fox News’ audience from 1 to 3 p.m. Eastern on weekdays has grown to about 2.2 million, up 62 percent from the previous year. CNN and MSNBC have also seen big increases in daytime audiences.
With Trump dominating the morning news cycle with his Twitter postings, Spicer’s afternoon briefing is a highly anticipated forum for journalists to parse and probe the president’s words. The news networks have taken to teasing the briefing for viewers, broadcasting an empty lectern in the corner of the screen in the minutes before Spicer arrives.
Spicer, a famous-for-D.C. type who is now famous, is also attracting interest, although perhaps not for reasons he would like.
His lambasting of the White House media corps, false claims about inauguration attendance and occasional use of props were parodied by “Saturday Night Live” last weekend — with actress Melissa McCarthy portraying Spicer — causing consternation inside the White House, Politico reported.
Spicer has what some describe as the least desirable job in D.C., balancing his relationship with reporters while spinning on behalf of a president who has shown open hostility toward the media. Trump, a media maestro himself, monitors Spicer’s performance and often critiques it afterward.
Spicer has retained the official backing of the White House. Stephen Bannon, a chief White House strategist, described Spicer’s combative interaction with the media as “a badge of honor.”