By James Hibberd
Updated February 13, 2012 at 04:33 PM EST
Whitney Tribute
Credit: Cliff Lipson

UPDATED: The 54th annual Grammy Awards surged in the ratings Sunday night as the music industry paid tribute to Whitney Houston.

The three-and-a-half hour telecast delivered a stunning 39.9 million viewers. That’s the Grammys’ largest audience since 1984 — when Michael Jackson swept the awards — and the telecast’s second-biggest viewership tally ever.

The Grammys delivered a 14.1 adults 18-49 rating in primetime, showing a 41 increase from last year and matching its best since 1990.

During the ceremony, Jennifer Hudson sang “I Will Always Love You” as a tribute to Houston, who died Saturday afternoon in a Beverly Hills hotel room. The singer’s official cause of death has not been publicly released.

Though some griped about the show being tape-delayed on the West Coast, Sunday’s ratings performance won’t cause network executives to question the decision anytime soon.

There were a few other shows on last night too, of course, and they were mostly trounced.

ABC’s Once Upon a Time (8.6 million, 3.0) held up well against the Grammys, down only 14 percent. But Desperate Housewives (6.3 million, 1.8) fell 31 percent to a series low, and Pan Am (2.7 million, 0.7) crashed 44 percent to a series low. Also, NBC’s counter-programming effort, a special two-hour Fear Factor (3.7 million, 1.5), was down 35 percent from its most recent Monday telecast and hit a series low. Fox’s animated block was also low.

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