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'Breaking Bad' finale scores big with ratings, Twitter

All season “Breaking Bad” ratings have been on roids; Sunday’s finale shattered the AMC hit’s previous highs and set a new basic cable benchmark with a series-record 10.3 million viewers.

I bet Showtime is really regretting its decision to air season 3 of “Homeland” at the same time as “Breaking Bad’s” exit.

The finale’s 10.3 million total includes an impressive 6.7 million in the key adult demographic, ages 18 to 49. Ratings for the final episode, “Felina,” were up 300 percent over last year’s finale.

It’s pretty remarkable when you consider that the show averaged a mere 1.2 million viewers per episode in its first season (2008) and nearly 2.6 million as recently as last year. The audience explosion is evidence of how much a fan base can grow in the off season thanks to Netflix, iTunes, DVDs, video on demand and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

When “Breaking Bad” returned in August, it logged nearly double the biggest number of viewers the show ever had for one episode. Some 5.9 million tuned in for the midseason premiere that kicked off the final batch of eight episodes. The previous record was just under 3 million in August of last year.

Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media, says it’s the third most-watched series finale in cable history behind HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.” It ranks as the most-viewed finale in basic cable history.

Not surprisingly, Sunday’s finale ignited the Twittersphere. Nielsen’s SocialGuide reported Monday that “Felina” was the most tweeted entertainment show of the week by a mile, racking up 1,237,900 tweets — well over double the series’ previous record of 598,000 for the Sept. 15 episode “Ozymandias.”

The social media frenzy caused a fair bit of controversy, too. My twitter feed was full of spoiler-phobic folks — many living on the West Coast and therefore seeing the episode later than the rest of us — who were ticked off that Entertainment Weekly, among others, was live-tweeting the finale.

Just when is it OK for real-time tweeting? In this age of time-shifted viewing, it’s an especially interesting conundrum. What’s your take on live tweeting the finale? Fair game or foul play?