Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and the makers of A Beautiful Mind may have been celebrating on Monday. But ABC wasn't.

Sunday night's Academy Awards telecast drew the lowest rating in history, according to Nielsen Media Research. Its 25.4 rating was worse than the last year's previous low, 26.2.

ABC estimated the telecast drew 41.8 million viewers, down from the 42.9 million people who watched in 2001.

The viewership figure was the lowest since 1997, when just over 40 million people were watching as The English Patient was named best picture. The rating was smaller this year, even though the viewership figure was higher, because there are more homes with televisions now than in 1997.

Earlier Monday, Nielsen's preliminary measurements of the 53 biggest media markets were up 2 percent over last year. But the numbers sank when smaller cities and rural areas were taken into account.

"This had, obviously, less appeal in the heartland than in recent years," said Larry Hyams, ABC's chief researcher.

Although the telecast stretched to 12:53 a.m. on the East Coast, viewers stuck with it. The Oscars had a 23.7 rating for the final 20 minutes of the program.

Washington and Berry became the first black duo to take the top-acting honors, and A Beautiful Mind was named best picture.

A ratings point represents 1,055,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 105.5 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

The show's largest audience ever came in 1998, when 55 million people watched Titanic win a record-tying 11 Oscars, including best picture.