LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Viewership for the 2011 Primetime Emmy Awards fell 8 percent from last year to just over 12 million Americans who watched Jane Lynch host the heavily promoted TV show that drew mixed critical reviews.
According to preliminary viewing figures from media research company Nielsen, 12.4 million people watched the three-hour show, down from 13.5 million last year when the Emmys were moved to avoid competition from popular football games.
If the early results hold up, that would make Sunday's Emmys on Fox one of the least viewed telecasts of the past five years. The show put on by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which gives awards for programs and performances, received its lowest ever audience in 2008 when 12.2 million Americans tuned in.
Time magazine blogger James Poniewozik described Lynch, who won an Emmy last year for her acid-tongued cheerleader coach role in "Glee", as "game" in her hosting duties but said she "had only occasionally good material to work with."
Hollywood paper Variety, on the other hand, said Lynch proved an inspired choice both in her off-the-cuff remarks and in videotaped sketches that skewered some of the biggest stars and shows on U.S. television.
"It may come as small comfort to Fox on a night when its shows failed to earn a single win, but the network knows how to throw a helluva of an Emmy Awards," wrote Variety's Andrew Wallenstein.
Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker called Lynch a "spunky, clever host". But for many critics, the best thing about the show was the touching moments when newcomers came up to the stage for the first time.
Six of the eight main acting awards went to Emmy first-timers, including Kyle Chandler for "Friday Night Lights", Julie Bowen and Ty Burell for "Modern Family, and popular winner Melissa McCarthy for comedy "Mike & Molly."
McCarthy's beauty pageant-style "crowning" and the impromptu lining up on stage of all six comedy actress nominees was seen as one of the highlights of Sunday's ceremony.
Advertising drama "Mad Men" and "Modern Family" took the top prizes again for best drama and comedy series.
Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times said "the host and the surprises kept things pleasant if not scintillating."
But Washington Post's Hank Stuever felt the show lacked originality, saying "the year's 'biggest night in television' fell flat in writing, performance and imagination, except in the most fleeting moments."
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)