The King of Pop has become the King of Television, as Michael Jackson’s interview with Oprah Winfrey drew the highest prime time rating for any non-Super Bowl telecast in nearly a decade — quickly vaulting ABC into the lead for the February sweeps.

“Michael Jackson Talks … To Oprah – 90 Prime Time Minutes With the King of Pop” beat it with an astounding 39.3 rating, 56 share in Nielsen nationally — the top results for a prime time entertainment program since the made-for-TV movie “The Day After” blew up a 46/62 on Nov. 20, 1983.

ABC research says the program ranked fourth in terms of households among all entertainment programs rated since 1960, averaging 36.5 million homes. The actual rating, however, wouldn’t place among the top 50 all-time broadcasts, since the number of TV households has gradually increased through the years.

Who watched the ask-all interview? Pretty much everybody, but particularly young women (a 73 share among females 18-34), teenagers (a 67 share) and children (69). Even so, the program also attracted a 42 share among women 50 and older and a 31 with men of that age group.

The King World-distributed show recorded more than 62 million viewers and was seen in part by a U.S. audience of 90 million. To put the numbers in perspective , the rating was higher than any Academy Awards ceremony since 1970, and no other broadcast this season figures to approach the show’s results other than the recent Super Bowl (45.1/66), in which Jackson also played a part.

The results surprised even executives at ABC, where VP of prime time audience analysis Larry Hyams said he had projected a 35-38 share for the event — a level that still would have set the record for past Oprah Winfrey interview spex on the network.

Anticipation for the Jackson interview also helped ABC’s “Home Improvement” ( 26.4/38) construct its best results ever, including 40-plus shares in all key demographics. The household rating was the fourth highest for any series this season, behind only the premiere of “Murphy Brown” and two episodes of “60 Minutes.”

Wednesday’s staggering performance lifted ABC ahead of CBS for the sweeps, with a 14.3 rating, 22 share average seven days into the four-week Nielsen survey compared to the Eye network’s 13.7/21 and NBC’s 11.7/18. A day earlier, ABC was tied for second in terms of household ratings and trailed CBS by a full 2 rating points.

Perhaps most significantly, the 61 share, 10:30-11 p.m. lead-in into late newscasts will doubtless by savored by ABC’s affiliates, which sought to cash in on the special with the usual — and in some cases unusual — package of tie-ins (see related story).

The special’s results dropped slightly nationally compared to major overnight markets, indicating a somewhat higher appetite for the program in big cities.

As for the “King of TV” designation, Jackson has appeared on four of the highest-rated programs of the current season and been profiled in a fifth: The Super Bowl halftime show with a 45.5/65; five-hour ABC miniseries “The Jacksons: An American Dream” (22.2/33); the Clinton inaugural special (22.0/34); the American Music Awards (21.6/33); and the “Oprah” interview show. Also-rans for the night included an Andy Griffith reunion on CBS (12.2/18), and NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” (7.0/10).

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