48 million watch Obama's State of the Union speech

It wasn’t necessarily in NBC’s best interest, but the net on Thursday released numbers showing that Conan O’Brien posted his best-ever “Tonight Show” numbers last week, including a whopping 10 million viewers for his sign-off show.

Auds tuned in at above-average levels throughout his final week of originals as host, peaking with the show’s all-time highs on Friday.

Meanwhile, Nielsen on Thursday also issued estimates for President Obama’s initial State of the Union speech, which averaged a little over 48 million viewers Wednesday on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Telemundo, Univision, CNN, BET, CNBC, Fox News Channel and MSNBC. This is down from the 52.4 million who watched Obama’s first big primetime event, an Address to the Joint Sessions of Congress, last February.

Compared with other recent first-time State of the Union speeches, Obama came in below George W. Bush in 2002 (51.8 million for the first address post 9/11) but above Bill Clinton in 1994 (45.8 million).

Nielsen did not issue breakouts of individual broadcast networks as the programming aired sans commercials and thus won’t count in season averages. Among cable newsies, though, Fox News Channel dominated from 9 to 11 p.m. (5.83 million viewers, including 1.88 million adults 25-54), followed by CNN (3.05 million, including 1.02 million adults 25-54) and MSNBC (2.31 million, including 712,000 adults 25-54).

Fox’s “American Idol” dominated the night’s opening hour of primetime (9.5/26 in 18-49, 25.71m).

On Friday, O’Brien’s last stand on “The Tonight Show,” featuring appearances from Tom Hanks and Steve Carell, averaged a big 4.4 rating in the demo and 10.3 million viewers overall, coming in about 15% above the host’s opening-night demo numbers on “Tonight” in June (3.8 in 18-49, 9.2 million viewers).

Jay Leno is back as “Tonight Show” host beginning March 1.

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