Nearly 27 million television viewers watched ABC's two-hour documentary that offered a peek into Michael Jackson's unusual private life last night (Feb. 6), Nielsen Media Research said. That's on a pa

Nearly 27 million television viewers watched ABC's two-hour documentary that offered a peek into Michael Jackson's unusual private life last night (Feb. 6), Nielsen Media Research said. That's on a par with what television's most popular show, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," draws every week and is comparable to the 26.5 million people who watched the second-season debut of "American Idol" last month on Fox.

Those preliminary numbers demonstrate why American television networks had a bidding war for the rights to show the Jackson documentary, originally broadcast on Granada Television in Britain. ABC reportedly paid nearly $5 million to air the interview.

Considering ABC has been averaging 6.5 million viewers on Thursday nights this season, it means a hefty chunk of advertising revenue for the network and parent Walt Disney Co. "We have to go back to the old, moldy pages of Nielsen data to find out when we did better on a Thursday night," said Larry Hyams, chief researcher at ABC.

A "Primetime Live" special about Jackson that followed the documentary was watched by 23.5 million people, beating an original episode of NBC's "ER," Nielsen said.

The Jackson documentary, however, didn't significantly cut into the viewership of the night's most popular shows on ABC's broadcast rivals. That indicates the special enticed new viewers or people who might have watched cable channels instead.

Jackson has expressed anger about the documentary, which shows his children walking in public in masks and talks about how he occasionally invites children to stay with him overnight at his Neverland ranch.


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