Whitney Houston may have cast a long shadow over the 54th Grammy Awards, but the music community’s response to the singer’s death helped generate huge ratings for CBS.
According to preliminary Nielsen data, Sunday night’s program delivered a whopping 39 million viewers and a 14.1 rating in the 18-49 demo, making it the second most-watched Grammys in history. Only the 1984 installment put up bigger numbers, drawing 51.7 million viewers.
The 26th Grammy Awards came on the heels of Michael Jackson’s monster release Thriller, which spawned seven hit singles and remains the top-selling record of all time. Jackson won a record eight Grammys that year.
Viewership peaked last night in the 9:30 p.m. time slot, as CBS averaged 43.1 million total viewers and a 15.1 in the demo. While the Nielsen numbers will be adjusted somewhat before the end of the day—a final reckoning should be available at around 4 p.m. EST—the Grammys have a good shot at outdelivering ABC’s coverage of the 84th Academy Awards on Feb. 26.
Last night’s broadcast was marked by a number of tributes to Houston; the most heartfelt was delivered by Jennifer Hudson. The singer gave a subdued and elegant reading of Houston’s 1992 hit, “I Will Always Love You.”
Houston died Saturday afternoon in her suite in the Beverly Hills Hilton.
Even before the news broke about Houston’s death, CBS was confident it would scare up a big crowd on Sunday night. Last year's broadcast reached an 11-year high of 26.7 million viewers, an improvement of 3 percent versus the previous year. The difference between the 52nd and 51st Grammy turnout was even more pronounced, as the 2010 broadcast delivered 25.9 million viewers, up 36 percent from the year-ago 19 million.
Sources said that CBS had elevated its unit cost for this year’s program to about $800,000 a pop, marking an all-time high for the Grammys. Just two years ago, CBS commanded a mere $425,000 for a 30-second spot in the broadcast.
CBS’ Grammy price is roughly half (47 percent) the going rate for a spot in ABC’s Academy Awards broadcast and a quarter (23 percent) what NBC was able to land for an average spot in Super Bowl XLVI.
Along with the outpouring of emotion for Whitney Houston, last night’s show was characterized by political warbling (Bruce Springsteen’s opening number, “We Take Care of Our Own”) and the triumphant return of British songbird Adele, who returned to the stage for the first time after having surgery on her vocal cords.
Adele won six Grammys, including the all-important trio of Song of the Year and Record of the Year (“Rolling in the Deep”) and Album of the Year (21).
As always, there were any number of miscues to keep the Twitterati chirping. Nicki Minaj contributed a mewling, bonkers deconstruction of The Exorcist, while Brian Wilson’s reunion with Mike Love and the rest of the surviving Beach Boys was marred by a gratuitous collaboration with lightweight acts Foster the People and Maroon 5.
Twitter piled up the hate for Chris Brown, who was both ubiquitous and (largely) unwelcome. Just three years after he turned himself in to the police in connection with a brutal assault on his then-girlfriend, Rihanna, Brown hit the stage three times Sunday night. Many of the Brown-related tweets expressed outrage that the industry elected to fête the performer, who New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones characterized as a “woman-beating rage-broccoli.”
The night ended with Paul McCartney’s hair-raising performance of Abbey Road’s “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End,” which in predictable award show style was capped off by the spectacle of a bunch of old dudes (Sir Paul, the Eagles’ Joe Walsh, Springsteen) pulling guitar god faces while trading solos.