LOS ANGELES The 60th annual Primetime Emmys show, roundly panned by critics as perhaps the worst ever, laid a big, fat ratings egg as well, with early figures pointing to the smallest audience in the awards' history.
According to preliminary data from Nielsen Media Research, ABC's three-hour Sunday telecast, featuring major wins for "Mad Men" and "30 Rock," averaged 12.2 million viewers, falling just below the historic low of 12.3 million posted by the 1990 ceremony aired on Fox.
Final national ratings for Sunday's broadcasts are due Tuesday.
By comparison, 13 million viewers tuned in for last year's ceremony and its farewell send-off of "The Sopranos," which ranked as the second-lowest Emmys audience on the books.
Sunday's telecast no doubt suffered from the fact that the shows and stars getting most of the attention, including best drama "Mad Men," comedy champion "30 Rock" and winning actors from shows like "Damages" and "Breaking Bad," represent programs that draw relatively few viewers themselves.
The Emmy telecast on ABC also collided in the eastern half of the country with NBC's highly rated Sunday Night Football broadcast of the Dallas Cowboys' 27-16 defeat of the Green Bay Packers.
And many New York viewers were likely siphoned off by an ESPN telecast of the last baseball game by the New York Yankees at historic Yankee Stadium.
Still, ABC's cause was not helped by an Emmy presentation that critics largely derided as a flop, especially an oddly ad-libbed opening monologue shared by five reality-show hosts who served as the evening's collective emcees.
In an apparent homage to their unscripted TV genre, Howie Mandell ("Deal or No Deal"), Ryan Seacrest ("American Idol") Jeff Probst ("Survivor"), Tom Bergeron ("Dancing with the Stars") and Heidi Klum ("Project Runway") took to the stage for about five minutes to joke about how they literally had nothing prepared to say.
Probst, Seacrest and Mandell then left the stage to Bergeron and Klum, who were joined by William Shatner for a gag that involved ripping off Klum's clothes.
The whole bit was panned by reviewers and other performers. Emmy winner Jeremy Piven, co-star of HBO's "Entourage," called the opening confusing and a "celebration of nothingness."
The ceremony then lurched into overdrive by mid-show with many presenters and winners forced to rush through their appearances to make up for lost time.
"It was hideously awful from start to harried finish, dragged down by five amateurish reality anchors who would have been unwelcome as guests, let alone hosts," USA Today wrote.
ABC, a unit of the Walt Disney Co. and fellow networks doubt hoped for a more auspicious official kickoff to prime-time TV's premiere week, seen by industry executives as a kind of reboot for television after last season was cut short by the Hollywood writers strike.