Comedy finales go out on a high note

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Two comedies that suffered ratings declines in recent seasons--NBC's Will & Grace and Fox's That '70s Show--flexed some Nielsen muscle one last time in their hourlong series finales last week.

Will & Grace, starring Eric McCormack and Debra Messing, closed its eight-season run on top with 18.4 million viewers and an 8.4 rating/21 share in the adults 18-49 demographic in the 9 p.m. hour Thursday, according to Nielsen Media Research. Those were the highest marks for the show in more than two years, and it helped drive lead-out ER (16.6 million, 7.1/19) to its best numbers of the season.

The Will & Grace finale also was the first program to beat, albeit by a hair, an original episode of CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (25.4 million, 8.3/20) in adults 18-49 in two years, since the series finale of another long-running NBC comedy, Frasier, in May 2004.

Fox's That '70s Show (9.3 million, 4.4/14) closer delivered the eight-year sitcom's largest audience by a wide margin in more than a season. But it still was topped from 8-9 p.m. by the Will & Grace: Say Goodnight Gracie (12.9 million, 5.3/16) clip show that preceded NBC's finale.

Overall, NBC enjoyed its best Thursday showing among adults 18-49 (outside of Olympics periods) since February 2005 with a 6.9/19 for the night compared with CBS's 6.0/16. Without a Trace (19.8 million, 6.0/16) helped keep CBS at No. 1 in viewers (19.7 million) vs. NBC (16 million).

ABC couldn't generate much heat opposite the NBC-CBS duel with the concluding episodes of the Simon Cowell-produced reality series American Inventor and 10 p.m. newsmagazine Primetime adding up to a nightly average of 5.8 million viewers and a 2.1/6.

On Friday, CBS's 10 p.m. drama Numbers (12.5 million, 3.4/11) closed out its sophomore year on the high end of its typical ratings range this season. CBS's freshman 9 p.m. drama Close to Home (9.7 million, 2.6/8) was more in the middle of its regular ratings zone. CBS had little traction with its 8 p.m. special (6.9 million, 1.8/7) on violence, Escaping Danger, hosted by Dr. Phil McGraw.

ABC was second to CBS for the night with its two-hour America's Funniest Home Videos (7.6 million, 2.3/8) season closer followed by newsmagazine 20/20 (8 million, 2.8/9).

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