Goodybe, Farewell, Amen: “M*A*S*H” finale no longer the most-watched in U.S. history
It's a record: Sunday's Super Bowl attracted 106.5 million viewers, surpassing the final episode of "M*A*S*H" to become the most-watched broadcast in TV history.
That's according to Nielsen numbers reported by the AP.
Don't get too excited about this stat: Viewership for the Super Bowl has risen each of the past five years thanks to the fact that the overall U.S. population continues to rise. In terms of overall percentage of viewers watching the game, no records were broken Sunday.
Still, it's a great day for broadcast TV any time numbers go up vs. down. And Sunday's game between the Saints and Colts rose 8 percent over NBC's viewership a year ago.
In terms of ratings, Sunday's game averages a 45 rating/68 share. That's up 7 percent from 2009 and the biggest Super Bowl since 1996's Cowboys-Steelers showdown (46.0/68).
Ratings — as opposed to overall viewers — is arguably a better standard by which to judge a show's historical performance. They simply account for the percentage of people watching a show at any given time, something not as impacted by population changes.
By that measure, Sunday's game didn't come close to overthrowing "M*A*S*H," which averaged a massive 60.2 rating/77 share when it went off the air in 1983. This year's Super-cast isn't even in the top 5 highest-rated Bowls of all time.
Of course, there are myriad more viewing options available today than 25 years ago. But cable was pretty darn widespread back in 1994, when CBS's coverage of the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding ice smackdown drew a 48.5 rating — also bigger than Sunday's Bowl.
However you tally it, CBS also got good results for its premiere of "Undercover Boss": Roughly 38.6 million viewers watched the unscripted series, the third-biggest post-Bowl audience ever.
It retained more than 35 percent of the game audience, much better than other shows in recent years but not as much retention as "Grey's Anatomy" in 2006 (41.7 percent).
CBS had a perfect storm of factors going for "UB".
After landing a full hour preview on "Oprah" a few days before the game, CBS also benefited from a close game (until the final minutes) and a game that ended almost on time.
Over the past 20 years, "Friends" held the record for biggest post-game tune in, attracting just under 53 million viewers in 1996, according to Nielsen. The second season premiere of "Survivor" brought in 45.4 million, while "Grey's Anatomy" drew 37.9 million in 2006.
In terms of audience retention, "Friends" in 1996 retained more than 50 percent of its Super Bowl audience (that year's game drew over 94 million viewers). More recently, the post-Bowl episode of "Grey's" had held on to the biggest share of the game audience, retaining about 42 percent.
By comparison, last year's post-Bowl episode of "The Office" held on to just 23 percent of the football crowd.
Early ratings for Sunday's Super Bowl on CBS indicate this year's Big Game between the Saints and the Colts could end up being a Really Big Game.
Overnight numbers from Nielsen's big city metered markets show the Bowl generating its best performance in 23 years, scoring a 46.4 rating and a 68 share. That's up 10 percent from last year's metered markets and the highest since 1987, when a New York-Denver matchup earned a 47.8 in the overnights).
These early ratings are just a snapshot of how the Bowl performed. Actual national numbers, which account for the fact that the game aired live across all time zones, aren't expected until after 10 a.m. Monday. It's possible the game could break through the 100 million viewer mark for the first time, though if it does, remember: The U.S. population keeps going up each year, making overall viewership a misleading yardstick of historic relevance.
Check back later for the actual final ratings.
Some other early SuperStats (TM):
– The Bowl earned its best overnight numbers in (no shocker) New Orleans (56.3/82). That means 82 percent of people watching TV at game time were watching the Bowl… and the other 18 percent were either lying or really, really don't like to join in.
– Viewership seemed to have peaked around 9:30, when the game notched a 50.6/71. For the kids in the audience, that's like 4 episodes of "American Idol" viewership in one!
– Washington and Nashville tuned in the Bowl in bigger numbers than Indianapolis. See what happens when you don't support your team enough, Colts fans? Mr. Manning can only do so much. (In fairness, Colt country drew the second biggest share of viewership, with 80 percent of Hoosiers watching the Bowl).