Did you watch last night’s Saturday Night Live anniversary special, SNL 40? Actually, let’s go ahead and answer that one for you: yes, you did. And so did most of the people you know. The overnight ratings are in for the 3.5 hour, star-studded primetime event, and they are huge. Like, “series finales of popular sitcoms from 10 years ago before cable/DVR/streaming splintered audiences into a zillion little highly-targeted niche groups” huge.
According to preliminary national estimates from Nielsen, SNL 40th Anniversary Special averaged a 7.8 rating/21 share in adults 18-49 and 23.1 million viewers overall from 8 to 11 p.m., preceded by an hourlong red-carpet special that performed nicely as well (3.0/10 in 18-49, 11.1 million viewers overall).
The 7.8 rating is the best for any NBC primetime entertainment telecast (excluding post-Super Bowl programs) since the Will & Grace finale in May 2006, and the 23.1 million total viewers is the net’s best since the night of the Frasier finale in May 2004.
And there’s more. It outperformed all of NBC’s internal estimates by a pretty substantial amount:
There are two sides to this coin, though. Yes, the numbers are pretty incredible, and scoring a hit like this is welcome however you can get it. It’s definitively a big win, and kudos to everyone involved for pulling it off. But a special celebrating the 40th anniversary of a comedy institution, filled wall-to-wall with A-List celebrity cameos and new, updated versions of iconic moments isn’t exactly something that can be replicated. The best they can do is circle February 2025 and hope everyone’s still kicking for the 50th. Either that or look for SNL 40: The Musical sometime this fall.