CBS, NBC and ABC scrambled late in the afternoon Thursday to put together specials based on the life of legendary singer and pop icon Michael Jackson. ABC and NBC already had competing primetime specials at 10 p.m. celebrating the life of Farrah Fawcett, but with Jackson's sudden death, the decision was made to preempt programming at 9 p.m. for Jackson tributes. CBS, which did not have Fawcett special planned, slated its Jackson tribute for 10 p.m.
At 9, the ABC News 20/20 and NBC News Dateline specials both drew a 1.7 rating/5 share in the 18-49 demo. At 10 p.m., the CBS news Michael Jackson special drew a 1.9/6. Collectively, the three specials attracted 18.5 million total viewers, according to Nielsen fast nationals data.
At 10 p.m., the ABC News 20/20 special on Farrah Fawcett garnered the highest ratings for any tribute on the night, delivering a 2.3/7 in the demo. The NBC Dateline Fawcett special drew a 1.6/5. Combined the two specials drew 14 million total viewers.
While Jackson was clearly the bigger star, the ABC Fawcett special had been promoted all day, beginning with Good Morning America, hours before her death. With the news of Jackson's death occurring after 6 p.m. ET, the big three broadcast networks had little time to promote their specials, hence the slightly higher ratings for the Fawcett tributes.