Laffer's last show draws best aud in 6 years

A correction was made to this article on May 09, 2004.

More than 52 million viewers enjoyed a final cup of coffee with the Central Perk gang Thursday night, making the “Friends” finale the most-watched entertainment program in six years.

Advertisers who shelled out a reported $2 million per 30-second spot got their money’s worth, as the 66-minute wrap to the laffer attracted 54% of adults under 50 watching television at the time — an amazing figure given audience fragmentation these days.

According to Nielsen in-home viewing estimates, an average of 52.25 million watched “Friends” on Thursday, peaking with nearly 56 million on hand for the closing minutes.

Those numbers put it ahead of the finale to the original “Survivor” on CBS in August 2000 (51.7 million) to rank as the most-watched entertainment program on any net since NBC’s “Seinfeld” said goodbye in 1998. Among all series finales, “Friends” ranks fourth behind “MASH” in 1983 (106.0 million), “Cheers” in 1993 (80.4 million) and “Seinfeld.”

It’s also the top-rated NBC telecast of any type, including Olympics, since the “Seinfeld” finale.

For the night, NBC racked up a huge 18.7 rating/45 share in adults 18-49 and 39.6 million viewers overall, the best non-sports results for any net on any night since the night CBS aired the original “Survivor” finale nearly four years ago. NBC nearly tripled second-place CBS in adults 18-49 (18.7/45 vs. 6.3/15) and more than doubled it in total viewers (39.6 million vs. 18.6 million).

The Peacock also scored huge numbers in the night’s opening hour with spec “The One With All the Other Ones: A ‘Friends’ Retrospective” (16.7/44 in 18-49, 36.9m) and dominated the night’s final hour with the best ratings in two years for “ER” (13.8/34 in 18-49, 28.37m).

The Eye’s “Survivor: All-Stars” held up well at 8 (7.2/19 in 18-49, 19.21m), but an original seg of “CSI” at 9 — head to head with the “Friends” finale — was off significantly from its season averages (6.5/14 in 18-49, 20.39m).

In sweeps action over the weekend, NBC prevailed in key demos on Friday on the strength of the season finale of “Third Watch” (prelim 3.5/12 in 18-49, 9.7 million), while CBS was just a tick out of the adults 25-54 lead and led in total viewers behind “JAG” (prelim 2.4/8 in 18-49, 10.0 million).

The Eye’s “Joan of Arcadia” (prelim 2.1/9 in 18-49, 8.2 million) led the 8 o’clock hour in 25-54 and total viewers.

ABC was paced by “George Lopez,” which scored narrow 18-49 victories at 8 with a new seg (prelim 2.3/10) and at 8:30 with a repeat (prelim 2.5/10).

Fox struggled Friday with the movie “Spy Kids” (prelim 1.3/5 in 18-49, 3.8 million) but bounced back to win a low-key Saturday in most key measures with its combo of “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted.”

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