'Bachelor' finale ratings hit a five-year high

Jasonmesnick_thebachelor_s13_240 Jason Mesnick may go down as the most-hated Bachelor in the history of the show, but he will also end up as one of the most-watched.

Monday night's festival of flip-flopping, in which Mesnick proposed to Melissa Rycroft at the end of the show, only to dump her and ask for another shot at runner-up Molly Malaney on the "After the Final Rose" reunion, generated the show's biggest ratings since its early days.

ABC says 15.5 million people watched the two-hour finale, which makes it the most-watched finale since Bob Guiney gave his non-committal final rose to Estella Gardinier in November 2003 (like just about every other Bachelor couple, they didn't last). It also drew a 5.4 rating in the key adults 18-49 demographic, the best since Jesse Palmer handed his last rose to soon-to-be-ex Jessica Bowlin.

The finale featured the usual Bachelor playbook of ring shopping, anguished looks out into the distance and a tearful goodbye between Mesnick and Malaney, followed by happy tears when he proposed to Rycroft.

Things really got interesting, though, on "After the Final Rose," when -- true to detailed spoilers that made the online rounds in the weeks leading up to the finale -- Mesnick said his feelings for Rycroft were no longer as strong as they were, then asked Malaney if he could try again with her. She accepted.

"After the Final Rose" scored 17.5 million viewers and increased to a 6.7 rating in the 18-49 demo. That's the best performance ever for the reunion show and gave ABC its best numbers at 10 p.m. on a Monday since Denny got his heart transplant on the second-season finale of Grey's Anatomy in May 2006.

Whether Mesnick was playing out a contractual obligation or just expressing his feelings (on camera, in front of a lot of people), and despite the collective outrage of fans who feel badly burned by the show -- moreso than when Jen Schefft chose to stay single at the end of her Bachelorette season or when Brad Womack dumped both his final two women last year -- the result was ratings gold for ABC. The network hopes that extends to tonight's "After the Final Rose, Part 2" special at 10 tonight.

Mesnick and Malaney will further explain themselves in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. We'll be there.

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