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Super Bowl Sets Viewing Record

Drew Brees and Peyton Manning dethroned Hawkeye and Hotlips.

Since it aired Feb. 28, 1983, the final episode of CBS' "M.A.S.H." sitcom, which averaged about 106 million viewers, reigned as U.S. TV's most-watched show. Sunday, the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl XLIV victory on CBS set a record: 106.5 million.

The "M.A.S.H." milestone was bound to fall given that the total number of U.S. TV viewers keeps expanding - the U.S. population is 31 percent larger than it was in 1983.

And, after the most-watched NFL season since 1990 and most-watched conference title games since 1982, this Super Bowl seemed a shoo-in to do it.

But in ratings, Sunday's game didn't come close to the record Super Bowl rating of 49.1 - translating to 49.1 percent of U.S. households - for San Francisco 49ers-Cincinnati Bengals in 1982.

CBS' coverage drew 45 percent, up 7 percent from last year's Pittsburgh Steelers-Arizona Cardinals game on NBC. (By contrast, the "M.A.S.H." finale drew 60.2 percent.)

Everything seemed to go right for NFL ratings this season, even the blizzard in Washington, D.C., where the Super Bowl drew a higher rating (56 percent) than in Indianapolis (54.2 percent).

Other factors this season included Brett Favre's resurgence, as Minnesota Vikings ratings spiked, and the Saints and the Indianapolis Colts staying undefeated until late in the season. The Dallas Cowboys, the NFL's top-drawing team, got their first playoff victory in 13 seasons.

Sean McManus, who heads CBS' sports division, says such story lines - not the economy's effect on consumers - drove ratings.

He said Monday that this season won't go down as a one-year wonder: "I don't see any reason why the momentum wouldn't continue. It will depend on the story lines."

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