Super Bowl XLIV beats out M*A*S*H finale in the ratings

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The New Orleans Saints' victory over Indianapolis in the Super Bowl was watched by more than 106 million people, surpassing the 1983 finale of "M-A-S-H" to become the most-watched program in U.S. television history, the Nielsen Co. said Monday.

Compelling story lines involving the city of New Orleans and its ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina and the attempt at a second Super Bowl ring for Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning propelled the viewership. Football ratings have been strong all season....

Nielsen estimated Monday that 106.5 million people watched Sunday's Super Bowl. The "M-A-S-H" record was 105.97 million.

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Jonathan Dresner - 2/10/2010

You're right, especially about the redemptive narrative.

That said, the NFL is going to run into a problem with it's "win" pretty quickly: first, globally the Super Bowl is dwarfed (by a factor of ten or more) by the World Cup; second, the rising population means that it's going to get easier and easier for some other "event" to match and beat those numbers, and when the NFL tries to say "but wait, we had a bigger share" they're going to discover just how low on the list they are.

David Austin Walsh - 2/10/2010

I think you're right, Jonathan, but the NFL has been gunning for M*A*S*H's top slot for years now, and when bragging rights are at stake, asterisks mean little.

In addition, beating out M*A*S*H in total number of households adds to the Cinderella story/hype surrounding the Saints. Football seasons have narratives, too, and this year's narrative is the spiritual rebirth of NOLA.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/9/2010

Actually, I'd guess that M*A*S*H still leads in percentage of Americans watching, or at least percentage of households with TVs tuned in. The population of the US has increased by about a third since then, so the absolute number of viewers isn't the best gauge of interest.