Lynette Rice
November 02, 2008 AT 12:00 PM EST

John McCain wasn’t as much of a draw as his running mate Sarah Palin, but his appearance on last night’s Saturday Night Live still helped the late-night show soar to new heights. The installment that featured a special appearance by McCain and his wife Cindy — along with Tina Fey as Palin and host Ben Affleck — averaged a 9.0 rating/20 share in 56 local markets metered by Nielsen. That’s the second-highest performance in overnights for SNL since December 1997, second only to Palin’s appearance on Oct. 18 (10.7/24) which featured Josh Brolin as host. Last night’s telecast opened with McCain and Fey’s Palin hosting an infomercial for QVC. Unlike Palin’s appearance from two weeks back, McCain made a lot more jokes at his own expense, as well as his competitor’s. American Idol winner David Cook was the night’s musical guest.

After seven original episodes this season, SNL is averaging 7.6/18 in metered markets, up 69% versus the 4.5/11 the show was averaging at this point last year after four originals. SNL premiered two weeks earlier this season to take advantage of interest in the presidential campaign. Final numbers for SNL will be released on Nov. 6 — the day after the election.

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