‘Nothing’ works for NBC

108.7 mil watch 'Seinfeld' finale equaling a 41.3 ratings send-off

“Seinfeld” has signed off with a sensational 41.3 rating, 58 share, making it the fourth-highest-rated series finale since 1960 and putting it in a tie for the second-highest-rated non-sports telecast in 14 years.

NBC estimates a total of 108.7 million viewers watched the closing episode of the popular “show about nothing,” with roughly 90.7 million watching in the home and another 18 million in various out-of-home venues not regularly measured by Nielsen.

Tops ‘Magnum’

“Seinfeld” ended up trailing the closing episode ratings of “MASH” (60.2/77), “The Fugitive” (45.9/72) and “Cheers” (45.5/64), but easily topping other top finales such as “Magnum P.I.” (32.0/48), “The Cosby Show” (28.0/45) and “All in the Family” (26.6/43).

It was the highest-rated non-sports broadcast in the five years since “Cheers” went off, while tying a Jan. 22, 1987, “Cosby Show” as the second-highest-rated non-sports telecast since the ABC vidpic “The Day After” back on Nov. 20, 1983 (46.0/62).

The “Seinfeld” closer landed in a tie with that 1987 “Cosby” and the 1995 Super Bowl for 61st place among the highest-rated U.S. broadcasts of all types since July 1960.

76.3 million viewers

Counting individual viewers, 76.3 million watched an average minute of the “Seinfeld” farewell, ranking it sixth all-time among entertainment broadcasts, behind only the last “MASH” (106 million), the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of “Dallas” (83.6 million), the last “Cheers” (80.4 million), “The Day After” (77.4 million) and “Roots, Part 7” (76.7 million). These total viewers counts, though, favor recent broadcasts due to continual population growth, while ratings measure percentages of households and reflect no such inflation.

The “Seinfeld” numbers were almost exactly what NBC was expecting. The Peacock had internally projected a 41.6 rating, just 0.3 points off the final 41.3. Media buyer Paul Schulman, president of the Paul Schulman Co., observed, “If they could project with that kind of accuracy all the time, they really would be the Merlin network.”

Schulman said he was expecting a slightly higher “Seinfeld” tally, but is still “thrilled” with the results.

Super aspirations

Advertisers were hoping for Super Bowl-caliber numbers because they were paying well in excess of Super Bowl ad rates — $1.7 million per 30-second spot on average, breaking the record $1.3 million of last January’s Super Bowl.

In fact, “Seinfeld” merely equaled the lowest Super Bowl rating of the last six years, but the sitcom’s demo skew is the best on television, making its 41.3 worth more to advertisers than a Super Bowl 41.3.

“Seinfeld’s” departing numbers also topped this year’s “Titanic”- boosted Academy Awards, the highest-rated Oscarcast in 15 years.

“Seinfeld” floated 18% above the Oscar’s homes rating and 60% above its 18-49 score.

Best with women

“Seinfeld’s” highest demographic share came with women 18-34 (76), followed by men 18-34 and women 18-49 (74 each). In no key adult demo did “Seinfeld” dip below a 70. In men 18-34, “Seinfeld” attracted eight times the combined audience of the ABC-CBS-Fox competition (37.6/74 vs. a combined 4.5/9).

“Seinfeld” didn’t come close to losing the night in any demo breakout, but did its lowest numbers among teens (a 63 share), kids (52) and viewers 50-and-older (42).

The 8-8:45 p.m. clips show that preceded the finale earned a 33.6/53 in homes and a 28.8/67 in adults 18-49. Both easily eclipsed all previous “Seinfeld” numbers.

The 8:45-10 p.m. final episode’s 41.3/58 topped the series’ previous households record (set the week before) by 67%. In adults 18-49, the finale’s 38.7/72 topped the series’ previous record by 87%.

Spreading the wealth

NBC also cashed in with a record “ER” (28.8/45) and a record “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” (2.8 rating in adults 18-49). “The Tonight Show” (12.4/32 in Nielsen’s metered markets) failed to approach record levels, but its total viewer tally of 15 million is figured to be the ninth-largest in that series’ 44-year history.

With six nights left to count in the May sweeps, NBC’s “Seinfeld” boost has the Peacock 5 shares ahead in homes (11.9/20 vs. second-place CBS’ 8.9/15) and a staggering 9 shares ahead in adults 18-49 (8.2/23 vs. Fox’s 5.0/14). That 18-49 advantage ballooned from 5 shares to 9 in just the one night of “Seinfeld’s” wrapup.

Among Thursday’s competitors, CBS did best, averaging a 7.8/12 in homes, remarkably down just 2 shares from its second-quarter average.

In adults 18-49, CBS tied Fox for second, both with mere 2.4/5 averages.

Sacramento tops

Among Nielsen’s 39 metered markets, Sacramento gave “Seinfeld” the highest marks (51.6/66) and Memphis the lowest (22.9/33). In New York, the “Sein-off” episode earned a 49.1/63, topping the Gotham rating for the 1990 N.Y. Giants Super Bowl win over the Buffalo Bills by 13%. L.A. gave “Seinfeld” a farewell 47.7/62.

Each household rating point represents an estimated 980,000 homes, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. Each adults 18-49 rating point reps 1.23 million viewers, 1% of the U.S. total. A share is the same sort of percentage, except it measures only the homes or viewers watching TV during the timeslot involved.