Super Bowl XXX attracted the largest audience in U.S. television history, NBC reported Monday--with about 138.5 million people watching at least part of the championship game.
Sunday's football showdown in Tempe, Ariz., in which Dallas beat Pittsburgh 27-17, garnered a 46.1 rating on the A.C. Nielsen measurement service, meaning it was watched in 46.1% of U.S. households. It was the Super Bowl's highest rating since the Bears-Patriots game in 1986.
The final episode of "MASH" in 1983 still holds the record as TV's highest-rated program, with a 60.2, but because the population grows each year, the value of a rating point increases. As a result, NBC and the Nielsen company said Sunday's game had a larger total audience than any other program in history.
Some reports of the audience for the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial last October had topped 150 million, but those were based on estimates of viewing done outside the home. Nielsen only measures TV watching in households, not in offices, hospitals, bars or college dorms.
The 138.5 million figure for Sunday's Super Bowl counted only viewing in homes and was a record for total audience (rather than for the average number of viewers who watched the game from start to finish, which was lower), a Nielsen spokesman confirmed.
The heavily hyped episode of "Friends" that followed the Super Bowl didn't draw nearly as well as the game, but it still drew viewers in about 28.3 million homes--39% more than the comedy has been averaging this season.
NBC said that "Friends" had the best showing for a post-Super Bowl telecast since "60 Minutes" in 1984.