NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Some 11.9 million Americans watched Thursday's unusually restrained Republican presidential debate on CNN, the network said on Friday, a sharp drop from the 16.9 million who tuned in last week when the Republican contenders faced off on a much rowdier evening.
Thursday's figure marked the second-smallest audience for a Republican presidential encounter since the 2016 campaign debates began in August 2015, according to Nielsen data.
More people on Thursday tuned in to popular CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory, which drew 14.5 million viewers, than watched the debate in Miami, the ratings data showed.
The CNN-hosted debate at the University of Miami came just five days before voters in Florida and Ohio will determine whether US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Governor John Kasich will be able to continue with their increasingly long-shot candidacies for the party's nomination to run in the Nov 8 general election.
With previous assaults on front-runner Donald Trump having failed to knock him down, Rubio and US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas chose a more civil approach on Thursday, raising questions about Trump's policy positions without attacking him personally.
Trump's presence has boosted TV audiences for presidential debates, helping to attract a record 24 million viewers for his first official outing as a candidate in August last year.
Since then, however, audiences have dropped off, with only the raucous March 3 Republican encounter coming close to the interest seen last year.
Democratic TV debates have fared less well with the public and have struggled to attract audiences of more than 10 million since January.