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Lisa de Moraes: Viewers of record-setting Super Bowl XLV tuned out for 'Glee'

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 11:43 PM

Sunday's Super Bowl clocked a historic 111 million viewers.

"Glee" fumbled away 84 million of them.

That's right - even an opening number festooned with hot, blue-wigged cheerleaders sporting sparkler-bedazzled Gaultier-ish bra tops failed to keep Sunday's Super Bowl-watching horde on board for the "Glee" episode that followed.

Sunday's Super Bowl XLV was the most-watched program in U.S. television history: Its average of 111 million broke the record of 106.5 million set a year ago by Super Bowl XLIV, as well as the 106 million people who watched the series finale of "M*A*S*H," which held the record from 1983 to 2010.

The "Glee" show that followed - in which the burly boys of the McKinley High football team feuded with not only the glee club but also the school's hockey team - dropped about 84 million of those football fans, averaging just less than 27 million viewers in the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot.

That's a whole lot smaller crowd than the 39 million who'd stuck around after last year's Super Bowl to watch CBS's unveiling of the Practically Perfect post-Super Bowl Show - a.k.a. "Undercover Boss," in which the head of a waste-disposal company went undercover and discovered that his company's middle management was botching his "vision" and making life somewhat hellish for employees. (And that "Undercover Boss" premiere had been the third-highest-rated post-Super Bowl audience ever, behind the famous post-Super Bowl "Friends" episode of 1996 that clocked a whopping 53 million viewers, and the post-Super Bowl premiere of "Survivor: The Australian Outback" that averaged 45 million in 2001.)

Sunday's game marks the sixth consecutive year that Super Bowl viewing has increased. Over those six years, the franchise has gained nearly 25 million viewers. According to Nielsen Media Research, about 163 million people caught at least six minutes of Sunday's game, which means they presumably saw at least one ad break. And were presumably disappointed, because this year's crop of Super Bowl ads sure was disappointing.

On Monday, Fox was making the rounds, reminding the press that Sunday's "Glee" got off to a bit of a late start, at 10:30 p.m. The longer a night wears on, the harder a show has to compete against Going to Bed.

But you and I know that the big issue "Glee" faced after the Super Bowl on Sunday was that it's, you know - "Glee."

And, on Fox's point: Last year's "Undercover Boss" premiere started at 10:13 p.m. - a full 26 minutes earlier than "Glee" did Sunday. But Sunday's Super Bowl game actually ended at 10:07 p.m. . . . Maybe Fox suits should not have let the post-game blather drone on quite so long, you think?

For comparison's sake, when "Glee" returned from a four-month hiatus last April, in a time slot following "American Idol," it clocked just less than 14 million viewers. And "Glee's" Ode to Brit-Brit episode attracted an average of 13.5 million fans, while the Madonna-centric episode snared about 13 million.

And don't be confused by press reports that the audience for Sunday's Super Bowl was 162.9 million people. That was not the game's average audience. That was the so-called "reach" number - the number of people who watched as little as six minutes of the game.

The reach number used to be relevant to advertisers because it was widely assumed anyone who watched six minutes of a show probably saw one ad break. Network reps - particularly those who work for sports divisions - like to hawk the "reach" stat because, well, it's bigger.

Simon says

"I miss you guys," Simon Cowell cooed at shocked TV critics during a conference call to discuss his new singing competition series, "The X Factor."

The critics were not used to such squashy soupiness out of the mouth of the former "American Idol" judge, who is known for his ability to make Idolettes feel as if they'd been hit over the head with some heavy object at the exact same moment they were slipping on a banana peel.

"I'm glad we're coming back," he added sentimentally during the call, which had been set up to talk about "The X Factor."

On the new reality series, performers as young as 12 (and nearly as old as death) can compete as a solo singer or part of a group, and the judges also mentor the competitors, helping with song choice and performance. Auditions are scheduled to begin next month in Los Angeles, and the winner of the show - which is the latest iteration of Simon's British singing competition hit - will be awarded the largest prize in TV history: a $5 million recording contract. Simon insisted it is not a "dressed-up $5 million" but a genuine, grade-A "life-changing prize."

Asked what sets this new singing competition apart from "American Idol" - in which Simon was first foisted upon an unsuspecting public - he sniffed that it was "like comparing 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' with 'Jersey Shore.' "

This was the Simon they remembered - the one who chewed broken bottles and gazed upon TV critics at TV Press Tours as if they had the smell of onions.

Speaking of "Idol," Simon insisted he had not, except for a minutes-long trailer, watched the latest edition of that Fox hit, with new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. Yet Simon has apparently been paying very close attention to the ratings, which have held up quite well considering the show's age, the degree to which it was overhauled this season, and the move to the tougher Thursday night slot.

"I was more concerned about the ratings falling off a cliff, meaning the whole genre is now over," Simon admitted. "The good news is people are still excited about the shows, whether it's ['Idol'] or 'Dancing With the Stars,' which has definitely gotten better, or 'America's Got Talent,' " he said. Simon also exec-produces "Talent."

"People, thank God, still like these shows," Simon said.

In even the greatest men, there is almost always a weak spot. Achilles had his heel. Simon has Paula Abdul.

"I'm a massive fan of Paula," Simon said Monday - something to which you'd think no one would admit unless he knew it could be proved against him. Simon admitted they were friends "for I'd say 80 percent of the time" they'd worked together on "Idol" and had been in regular contact since. But, he said firmly, "I am not going to say today, on this call," who will and will not join Cowell as judges on "The X Factor" on Fox "because the truth is, honestly, we haven't made up our minds yet." That announcement, he said, was three to four weeks off.

Olbermann's next gig

Just when you thought you were going to get a vacation from Keith Olbermann, a publicist has sent out word that Keith is holding a news conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday to make an "exciting announcement" regarding the "next chapter in his remarkable career."

Less than a month ago, Olbermann abruptly exited MSNBC, where his show, "Countdown," had been the network's biggest draw. Both parties remain mum on the circumstances of the departure.

Late Monday, speculation focused on Olbermann delving into an Internet venture while also striking a deal with Current TV - the left-leaning current-affairs network available in just 60 million-ish U.S. homes, mostly on the digital tier, that is privately and independently owned by former vice president Al Gore and others. Olbermann would have an equity stake in Current TV, which is scheduled to make its "upfront" presentation to advertisers about programming plans one day after Olbermann's announcement, noted the New York Times.

Olbermann is presumed to be precluded from having a regular TV gig for some set period, per terms of his exit from MSNBC.

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