`Friends' finale draws non-record audience

May 08, 2004|By David Zurawik

An audience of 51.1 million tuned in last night to the finale of NBC's Friends, making it the second most watched show of the year behind the Super Bowl, which was seen on CBS by about 90 million viewers.

That's a big audience for the episode that ended with Ross and Rachel in each others' arms, but it set no records. The finale of M*A*S*H on CBS was seen by 105 million viewers in 1983 - the biggest audience for a final episode in network history.

Cheers and Seinfeld, two far more groundbreaking sitcoms, also had larger audiences for their finales. Cheers was seen by 80.4 million viewers on the evening it ended its NBC run in 1993, while Seinfeld had an audience of 76.2 million for its last episode on NBC in 1998.

"While that's a very significant audience [for Friends], it was less than a lot of prognosticators anticipated," said Abe Novick, a senior vice president at Eisner Communications. Some industry analysts had predicted an audience of as many as 100 million viewers, which helped make it possible for NBC to sell 30-second blocks of advertising time for $2 million each during the finale.

The one-hour Friends retrospective that preceded Thursday night's finale drew an audience of 36 million, according to preliminary figures from Nielsen Media Research.

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