The viewers have spoken. And it got very loud.
“Survivor” mania reached a crescendo Wednesday night when an average of 51.69 million viewers watched the summer phenom’s final episode — more than any program this season except the Super Bowl.
In the final 30 minutes, which saw wily Richard Hatch emerge as the surprise million-dollar winner, 58.58 million viewers were glued to the tribal council vote, representing nearly half of all televisions in use at the time.
“I’ll take it,” CBS Television prexy and CEO Leslie Moonves said. “Needless to say it’s a good day in Television City. Everyone is in a glow.”
Moonves expressed surprise that the final “Survivor” even beat March’s Academy Awards performance.
“Network TV is back,” he said.
Show topped a 50 share in all key demo breakdowns, including a 54 in adults 18-49 and an incredible 60 share in adults 18-34, both again second only to the Super Bowl.
Going out with a bang
The island-based reality series, which had gained viewers with each of its last seven episodes prior to the finale, really took off Wednesday: Its 51.69 million viewers — well ahead of projections — was 80% ahead of the penultimate episode Aug. 16 (28.67 million) and more than three times the 15.51 million who caught the series premiere May 31.
It drew more viewers this season, for example, than the Academy Awards (49.62 million), the most-watched episode of “ER” (39.38 million) or the most-watched celebrity editions of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (36.05 million).
According to Nielsen, “Survivor’s” 28.6 rating and 45 share in homes makes it the highest-rated CBS telecast since the women’s figure skating finals (Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding) at the 1994 Winter Olympics (44.1/64). It also ranks as the highest-rated summer broadcast since such marks were first kept, beginning in 1987.
The final half-hour grabbed a 32.0 rating and 48 share.
These numbers are all the more amazing given that “Survivor” had only 13 weeks to generate viewer interest and such a rabid following. Conversely, some of the top-rated programs of all time are finales of series — like all-time champ “MASH” (60.2/77) — that were on the air for many years.
Also, viewing levels are considerably lower during the summer months as vacations, good weather and other distractions keep more people away from their sets. The Super Bowl, on the other hand, benefits by airing on the most-watched night of the week (Sunday) and during the most-watched month of the year (January).
Because of these factors, the “Survivor” rating, as expected, did not come close to the finales of such series as “MASH,” “The Fugitive” (45.9/72), “Cheers” (45.5/64) or “Seinfeld” (41.3/58).
In the key advertiser demo of adults 18-49, “Survivor” averaged a 22.8/54, including a 32.0/48 in the final half-hour. That bests the Academy Awards’ 19.2/47 and the Feb. 17 episode of “ER” (20.2/48) to rank second only to the Super Bowl’s 37.9/70.
Other lofty scores included: 23.4/60 in adults 18-34, a 26.1/62 in women 18-34 and a 23.5/52 in adults 25-54. From 8 to 10 p.m., CBS topped the other five networks combined by 212% in adults 18-49 (22.8 vs. 7.3), by 277% in adults 18-34 (23.4 vs. 6.2) and by 168% in viewers (51.69 million vs. 19.30).
The post-show town hall meeting, featuring all 16 “Survivor” castaways, averaged 38.77 million viewers and delivered an 18.1/44 in adults 18-49 — more than three times the combined ABC-NBC demo score in the hour (6.0/14).
CBS won the night by 32 shares in homes and by 45 shares in adults 18-49. NBC, the No. 2 net on the night in adults 18-49, averaged just one-ninth of the CBS rating (21.3 vs. 2.3).
The big night boosted David Letterman’s “Late Show,” which delivered a 7.9/20 in Nielsen’s metered markets, the program’s third-highest rating of the September-August broadcast season and more than double its average (3.6/10).
Craig Kilborn’s “The Late Late Show” followed with a 2.5/10, tying as the program’s highest rating since its March 1999 premiere.
CBS estimates that 125 million viewers watched all or part of the “Survivor” series, which will be rebroadcast on 13 nights over a 15-day stretch beginning Sept. 15. The second edition of the series, set for the Australian Outback, will premiere Jan. 28 after the net’s coverage of the Super Bowl.
(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)