NEW YORK -- The much ballyhooed finale of 'Cheers' was watched by nearly 100 million TV viewers nationwide, NBC said Friday, although untold more imitated the patrons of their favorite TV watering hole by watching at their own local tavern.
NBC said initial ratings for Thursday night's 'Cheers: Last Call' made it 'the second-most-widely viewed episodic series telecast in televsion history,' but it fell far short of the record -- the finale of 'MASH' in 1983.
NBC had hoped the final espisode of 'Cheers' would draw a bigger audience than the final episode of 'MASH,' but the CBS series about an Army field hospital in Korea held onto its record of a 66.2 rating and 77 share.
CBS estimates the home audience alone for the finale of 'MASH' was 121,600,000 -- some 23 million more than NBC's early estimate of the home audience for 'Cheers'.
Actually, there is no way for NBC to determine exactly how many people viewed the 'Cheers' finale because thousands who gathered at bars and parties across the nation to watch won't be counted.
The official Nielsen ratings are to be released Tuesday.
NBC spokesman Curt Block said Thursday's 275th and last episode of the long-running comedy series set in a Boston bar got a 46.7 rating and 62 percent share of the viewing audience, according to a survey of 29 cities representing about 50 percent of the nation's TV audience.
Block said the half-hour retrospective that preceded the 90-minute finale got a 41.9 rating and a 57 share.
'We estimate on the basis of this survey that 'Cheers' was bid farewell by an audience of at least 98 million viewers,' Block said.
NBC will rebroadcast the finale Sunday, May 23, from 7-9 p.m. EDT.
'For 'Cheers' fans around the country who were watching the 'Last Call' at noisy bars or parties or may have missed portions of the episode, and for those who may have been unable to see the show at all, and for those people who just want to enjoy the final episode one more time, we are pleased to offer an encore presentation of this historic telecast,' said NBC entertainment president Warren Littlefield.
'Cheers' was a ratings giant for the better part of a decade: it was the only primetime program in television history to rank in the top five weekly Neilsen ratings in its 10th season and its second-to-last episode finished No. 1 for the week.
The final episode also proved to be a boon for local NBC Boston affiliate WBZ-TV, which said it posted the highest ratings ever.
Janet Patterson, research director at WBZ, said overnight ratings showed that about 1.15 million households tuned into the 'Cheers' finale -- more than half the Boston market.
'These are the biggest numbers, ever. I'm still being peeled off the roof,' Patterson said.
'But these numbers are beyond the Patriots' Super Bowl (in 1986) or game seven of the World Series in '86, or the Celts ever winning the NBA crown,' Patterson said.
The high numbers were expected, she said, because Boston has always shown a fondness for 'Cheers.' The bar featured in the sitcom is based on the Bull & Finch Pub on Boston's Beacon Hill.
The finale pulled a 54.1 rating-68 share of the audience in the Boston area.
On a national basis, each ratings point represents about 931,000 households. A share is the percentage of TV sets in use that are tuned into a particular show or network.