N.Y.-Dallas contest draws 16 mil viewers

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NEW YORK -- The New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game lifted "Monday Night Football" past a 13-year-old record to become the most-watched program in cable history.

More than 16 million viewers tuned in to see the game -- including 14.7 million viewers in primetime -- according to data released Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research. "MNF" averaged a 5.6 rating in adults 18-49 for the entire night compared with NBC's broadcast-leading 4.6 rating. After several weeks of knocking on the door of the record, "MNF" and ESPN finally beat the November 1993 viewership record held by CNN's "Larry King Live" for the Al Gore-Ross Perot debate on NAFTA.

On Monday night, the "MNF" rating wasn't enough to become the top-rated show in viewers, with the honors going to CBS' "CSI: Miami." "MNF" tied with NBC's "Heroes" in adults 18-49 with a 6.3 rating/15 share, though head-to-head between 9-10 p.m., "MNF" won with a 6.5/16, Nielsen said.

ESPN's primetime numbers were good enough to beat the broadcast networks in total viewers, adults 18-34, adults 18-49 and adults 25-54, the third time that has happened this season.

Meanwhile in broadcast prime, "Heroes" continued to be just that for NBC, lifting the peacock to a narrow win Monday in the adults 18-49 demographic against CBS. The Tiffany network took the gold in viewership among the broadcast networks with 13.4 million.

"Heroes" won hands-down at 9 p.m. (and the entire night) in the demo, while CBS' "Two and a Half Men" (15 million, 4.7/11) beat it between 9-9:30 p.m. before "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (12.1 million, 3.9/9) lowered CBS' average in the hour. ABC was in third place with "The Bachelor: Rome" (8.2 million, 3.2/8), while Fox moved "Justice" (6.2 million, 2.1/5) to a new time period amid heavy promotion during the World Series.

Meanwhile, NBC took the 8 p.m. hour with "Deal or No Deal" (15.8 million, 4.5/12). CBS had a mixed bag in the hour with its sitcoms, with "How I Met Your Mother" (9.6 million, 3.6/10) showing week-over-week improvements at 8 p.m., while "The Class" (7.9 million, 2.9/7) dropped week-over-week compared with last week's 8.4 million and 3.0/8 demo rating. Fox's "Prison Break" (8.5 million, 3.3/9), on a travel day for the World Series before it reconvenes tonight in St. Louis, just edged ABC out for third place in both measures.

But NBC's momentum was stopped cold at 10 p.m., when "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (7.7 million, 3.2/8) was beaten by CBS' "CSI: Miami" (17.8 million, 6.1/15). ABC's "What About Brian" (6 million, 2.7/7) fell week-over-week.

It has been an extraordinarily good season for the NFL, with ESPN averaging 13.7 million viewers so far this season for "MNF." That is up 52% compared with its season-to-date averaged of 8.9 million viewers at this point last year for "Sunday Night Football" when it was on ESPN.

"ESPN is having an incredibly successful ride," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday about the flexible scheduling. NBC is having success compared with last year's "MNF" and CBS is flat or slightly up compared with last season.

Fox Sports is doing even better, with Sunday's national game -- the Washington Redskins at the Indianapolis Colts -- averaging 20.4 million viewers. That was up 7% compared with last season's national game and would be the third-highest show in primetime viewership if it were tracked that way. Season-to-date, Fox's national game is up 10% to an average of 21.4 million viewers.

"To have all four of your television partners positive, higher than they were before, is pretty unbelievable" in today's media landscape, Ebersol said.

Nightly averages: ABC (7.1 million, 2.9/7); CBS (13.4 million, 4.5/11); NBC (12.7 million, 4.6/12); Fox (7.4 million, 2.7/7); and the CW (2.8 million, 1.2/3).
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