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Phelps passes Spitz but can't quite fill "Empty Nest"

August 17, 2008 |  3:57 pm

Photographers surround Michael Phelps as he greets his mother, Debbie and sisters Whitney Flickinger Hilary on Sunday in Beijing.

Michael Phelps shattered Mark Spitz's 36-year-old single Games record of seven gold medals on Saturday night, but wasn't quite strong enough to help NBC dethrone "Empty Nest" as the reigning king of Saturday night television.

Phelps came close. In an era when big media continues to splinter, NBC's ratings press release noted that the 31.1 million average viewers "represents the best Saturday night viewership of a program on the network since Michael Phelps was 4 years old. The 'Golden Girls' spin-off  'Empty Nest,' starring Richard Mulligan, drew 31.4 million viewers on Feb. 24, 1990."

Phelps helped NBC's audience to peak at 39.9 million viewers in the 11 p.m. half-hour as Phelps and his U.S. teammates were winning the men's 4x100-meter medley relay.

NBC's Saturday night broadcast generated a 17.6 rating, up from 13.6 on the comparable night during the 2004 Athens Games, according to Nielsen Media Research data. NBC's average viewership of 31.1 million was a 38% increase over 22.5 million during the Athens Games.

NBC's nine-day average primetime viewership is at 30.1 million, according to Nielsen, up from 26.2 million during the like period in 2004. Its average rating (17.4) is the strongest for a non-U.S.-hosted Games since the 18.6 registered during the first nine days of the 1992 Barcelona Games.

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: Photographers surround Michael Phelps as he greets his mother, Debbie, on Sunday, shortly after winning his eighth Beijing Games gold medal. Credit: Mark Baker / Associated Press

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