The 39th season premiere of NBC‘s Saturday Night Live, with host Tina Fey and musical guest Arcade Fire, scored the highest adult 18-49 rating for an SNL debut in three years and delivered the biggest overall audience for a season opener in two years, NBC said today. This is damning with some pretty faint praise, given that last year’s SNL season debut was a total ratings write-off — not because Seth MacFarlane hosted, mind you, but because NBC decided to debut SNL early (September 15) so it could start in on those election year plug-a-Thursday-hole Weekend Update specials as fast as possible, only people didn’t seem so ready to start their new SNL season. The end result was a 2.2 demo rating and 6.0 million viewers.

Anyway, this year’s season opener drew a 2.4/10 in the demo and 6.5 million viewers overall. Demo-wise, it’s better than 2012 and 2011, but not better than when Amy Poehler opened the season on September 25, 2010 with musical guest Katy Perry (2.6).  This year’s kickoff scored a bigger overall audience than last year, but got beat by Alec Baldwin‘s hosting of the season starter on September 24, 2011 with musical guest Radiohead, which attracted an average of 6.7 million viewers.

What about last time Fey hosted, you ask? That was on May 7, 2011, when she averaged a much higher 2.6 rating and 7.1 million viewers. Here’s where we’d normally insert the boilerplate “SNL logged bigger numbers than anything on primetime that night on a broadcast network” line — except it’s not true this time! Some football game on ABC logged 6.8 million viewers Saturday night, beating SNL‘s season debut. Congratulations college football!

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