PRESCRIPTION FOR RATINGS?…. There’s a perception that it’s difficult to get Americans, in large numbers, to tune into policy discussions, even important ones. I was curious, then, to see what the ratings were like for the ABC News special this week on health care at the White House.

Apparently, folks tuned in after all.

The ABC News special edition of Primetime “Questions for the President: Prescription for America” drew 4.7 million Total Viewers – last in the time slot but ABC’s best 10pm audience in six weeks. NBC’s “The Philanthropist” won the time period with 7.4M and CBS’ “CSI NY” was second with 7.3M.

ABC’s program continued into “Nightline” where it topped NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” and CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman” in fast national data. The program averaged 4.25 million Total Viewers at 11:35pm, to Conan’s 3.66 million and Letterman’s 3.23 million.

It’s possible, of course, that the RNC’s incessant whining about the program helped give the special the publicity needed to generate a larger audience, but for an evening discussion on health care policy to draw bigger numbers than Letterman and Conan seems pretty impressive.

Apparently, some far-right blogs are crowing that the ratings weren’t higher. All things being equal, though, the numbers suggest there is an audience for substantive policy discussions, which is encouraging.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.