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With a normal timeslot that sits firmly in the pre-midnight period of Saturday evenings, NBC’s Saturday Night Live isn’t a show that generally comes up in conversations about huge ratings, coasting along with its dependable core audience. But once that format is made ready for primetime, as it was for the SNL 40 special on Sunday night, it gives way more people a chance to tune in. And they did, as the special drew NBC’s best ratings in almost ten years. Let’s all sing the Jaws theme in celebration.
This is a huge win for NBC, especially considering the special was extended to three-and-a-half hours. Pulling in over 23.1 million viewers, SNL 40 completely dominated all of its network competition, with CBS’ CSI double-header coming in second place with both episodes under 7 million. For further comparisons, NBC earned a 7.8 rating from the key 18-49 demographic, which is pretty incredible. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox’s Mulaney finale brought in just 1.1 million viewers. Something tells me that show won’t get a 40th anniversary special.
When post-Super Bowl programming is removed from contention – as the sporting event is the greatest lead-in possible – SNL 40 was NBC’s highest rated show since Will & Grace’s final episode in May of 2006, according to TV By the Numbers. As well, it brought in bigger audiences than any other primetime special since 2004’s Friends clip show that aired prior to the finale.
There’s a chance that the final numbers will get shifted around when all is said and done, as the 11-11:30 p.m. ET segment takes a little longer to measure, since it doesn’t factor into the normal primetime slot. That’s a pretty late hour for a Sunday night, and it was admittedly the weakest portion of the broadcast, but I doubt the numbers go down immensely. I mean, how could they top the return of Wayne and Garth in a post-Kanye world?
What’s more, SNL 40 also destroyed when it comes to the amount of Twitter activity it inspired. As measured by Nielsen Social, this was the most tweeted about episode of any series ever, with over 9.1 million people putting their peepers on over 1.3 million tweets about things like the Bill Cosby joke in ”Celebrity Jeopardy” or Bradley Cooper smooching Betty White for an extended period.
Something tells me Fifty Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson will bring in bigger than average audiences for her hosting gig on February 28, but probably not these kinds of numbers.