Not Exactly Xanadu

Cowboys-Giants. America’s Team against America’s No. 1 DMA. The opening of Jerry World. Add it up and Neil Patrick Harris, Matt Weiner and Toni Collette didn’t stand a chance.

Yes, NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecast, an exciting 33-31 G-men triumph over the ‘Boys decided on the game’s final play, averaged 24.8 million viewers. That was 11.3 million more than the 13.5 million who watched Harris host the 61st annual Emmy Awards and the most for an NFL primetime contest since Denver-San Francisco on Dec. 15, 1997 averaged 27 million watchers.

Don’t know whether a descendant of Samuel Taylor Coleridge was among the crowd of 30,000 with $29 Party Passes trying to gain a glimpse of Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones’s modern-day Xanadu, but the Nielsen count should have clicked higher since they apparently only got to watch the game on the 60-yard-long Mitsubishi video board.

Oops: that’s out-of-home viewing, so it wouldn’t count among the Nielsens. Oops: since many Party Pass holders evidently couldn’t see the field, the record 105,000-plus crowd seems just a tad inflated. Oops: things are bigger in Texas, including steer $&(!.

Next up: a chance for Dallas lovers/loathers to watch Tony Romo give away another one away Sept. 28 before the ESPN cameras at Cowboys Stadium. The worldwide leader is off to a good start with pro pigskin. It has captured the top three live audiences in cable this year, highlighted by the 14.7 million that watched Miami’s last-second bid fall short against the Indianapolis Peytons on Sept. 20.

Despite the strong start, ESPN’s 13.5 million viewer average trails its pace through the first three games of the 2008-09 campaign, which scored an average audience of 13.8 million over the comparable span. Last season’s early MNF performance was lifted by the Week 3 ‘Boys-Eagles battle, which drew 18.6 million watchers, the biggest live audience in cable history. Dallas’ 41-37 triumph ranks as the medium’s No. 2  telecast overall, as live +seven-day viewing pushed the premiere of Disney Channel’s High School Musical 2 to the top spot.

Can Carolina-Cowboys approach Philly-Dallas? Unlikely. The upcoming game trades down from the No. 4 DMA to No. 24 in Charlotte, not to mention Dallas’ nasty rivalry with the Eagles. Although some may want to see a punt scrape the video board, the Panthers’ 0-2 start could hold back the casual viewers needed to nudge the Nielsens. That and the fact that NBC has already given Jerry World its coming out of party.

Still, Dallas-Carolina should easily surpass Indy-Miami as cable’s top telecast of 2009 and push the 40th season of MNF ahead of last year’s pace.