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The Saturday Night Live ratings for Justin Timberlake's big fifth time came in this afternoon, and he delivered numbers the show hasn't seen since it had help from the NFL -- and that was a year and three months ago.

The Hollywood Reporter's Michael O'Connell writes Timberlake's latest hosting duty brought in a 5.9 rating in meter-market households and a 15 share. Or, in plainer English, the best ratings the show has seen since the January 7, 2012 episode hosted by Charles Barkley. (An exact number in millions won't be known until later this week.) But what was significant about that night was not the fact that the round mound of rebound was hosting in studio 8H. No, as Nikki Finke points out, the show benefitted from a lead in from an NFL playoff game. Specifically, it was a matchup between the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints. The game went long and the carryover audience inflated the show's numbers.

That Timberlake -- and his many friends -- can bring in NFL level numbers for Saturday Night Live is impressive. As we've seen this season, the league has been both a gift and a curse for NBC's numbers. The first half of their season was going great, until the NFL season ended and their ratings plummeted across the board. Does that mean the network will bring him back twice more this season, and three more times before Christmas, to give him Alec Baldwin level hosting numbers? Hopefully not. 

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