Contrite David Letterman scores with viewers

A record cable audience of 21.84 million tuned in to ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” this week to see Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings defeat his old team, the Green Bay Packers.

Meanwhile, a contrite David Letterman also packed ‘em in on Monday. CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” averaged 5.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen preliminaries, a 19% improvement over its two-week average this season (4.8 million). The hour featured the host attempting to defuse the media storm over the extortion case that erupted last week, with Letterman delivering an on-air apology to his wife and staff for engaging in sexual affairs with some “Late Show” staffers.

The pigskin performance continued an impressive run for “Monday Night Football,” which has already delivered the four largest audiences of the year, but Monday’s contest obliterated them all, according to Nielsen.

The much-anticipated matchup topped the prior cable record-setter of 18.61 million for last year’s early-season Dallas-Philadelphia matchup on “Monday Night Football.” Previous high for a cable entertainment telecast was Disney Channel’s premiere of “High School Musical 2″ in August 2007 (17.24 million).

The only regular season primetime NFL game to draw a larger crowd in recent years was the Sept. 20 contest in which the Dallas Cowboys opened their new stadium and took on the New York Giants (24.82 million viewers on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football”).

It’s been a great fall overall for football, and both “Monday Night Football” and “Sunday Night Football” are on pace for their strongest seasons since ESPN and NBC took over those respective packages in 2006.

Elsewhere Monday, Univision’s three-hour finale of “Manana Es Para Siempre” (Tomorrow Is Forever) drew impressive numbers (3.1/8 in 18-49, 7.30m), beating out NBC and CW on the night. For its entire run, it has become the net’s third highest-rated novella of all time.

Fox led broadcasters on the night in 18-49 with “House” (5.4/13 in 18-49, 13.74m) and a rising “Lie to Me” (3.1/7, 8.06m). CBS was close behind and No. 1 in adults 25-54 thanks largely to its middle-hour comedy combo of “Two and a Half Men” (4.4/10, 13.30m) and “The Big Bang Theory” (4.7/11, 12.52m).

NBC’s rookie 9 p.m. drama “Trauma” (1.7/4 in 18-49, 5.37m) tumbled more than 20% from its soft bow of the previous week, leading into more low numbers for “The Jay Leno Show” (1.5/4, 4.45m).

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