They are only the running mates, so its appropriate that Tuesday night’s debate between Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence and Hillary Clinton’s Tim Kaine drew far less than the 84 million or more who watched the first debate last week between Trump and Clinton. But no one quite expected the size of the audience to be that low — in fact the smallest in 16 years at just over 37 million. It was described by one TV comedian as a battle between a loaf of white bread and a jar of white mayo. Boredom won the night.

Ratings for the eight US major TV networks that covered the VP debate (three fewer than covered the first Trump-Clinton debate) reported a total audience of  around 36 million. That includes the big four broadcasters, CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox, and cable nets CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and Fox Business News. The stats do not include viewing on C-Span, or via live streaming. Univision, the Spanish network, didn’t broadcast the VP debate.

The peak audience for the VP debate was the 70 million who watched Sarah Palin (the female Donald Trump) and Joe Biden back in 2008. (Biden is still around, Palin is now an even shallower pool of ignorance on Fox News from time to time). In 2012, 51 million people watched Joe Biden and Paul Ryan (Mitt Romney’s VP candidate) toss bons mots at each other. And in 2004, John Edwards and Dick Cheney (George W. Bush’s VP candidate) dragged in 44 million. The 2000 debate between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman (Al Gore’s running mate) attracted 29 million.

In total viewers, NBC had 7.03 million viewers, followed by CBS’s 6.4 million, and ABC’s 6.15 million. Fox was well behind with an average audience of 2.21 million. PBS reports it had 1.47 million viewers. That brought the total viewer tally to just on 37.1 million.

In the cable networks, Fox News had nearly 6.1 million viewers (again beating its free-to-air stablemate, as it did in the Trump-Clinton debate), CNN had 4.16 million, MSNBC had 3.1 million and Fox Business News, 392,000. — Glenn Dyer