ROME (AP) _ A record 17.2 million Italians, nearly 60 percent of the TV viewing audience, saw the ''assassination'' of the beloved anti-Mafia police commissioner on the finale of the miniseries ''La Piovra'' (''The Octopus'').

Real life anti-Mafia investigators and police were glued to their sets in a Palermo police station to watch the TV hero, Corrado Cattani, walk out of a Milan hospital. Sensing his fate, he said, ''Here I am.''

Then, he fell victim to 70 rounds of ammunition from Mafia killers' guns.

Giovanni Falcone, Italy's best known anti-Mafia investigator, said in an interview before the prime-time airing of the finale:

''It's good that it presents the problem of the Mafia. Even if it's really only a good western, it's not a bad thing that it pushes people to talk about these arguments. I find it well done.''

The announcement in February that the end of the series' fourth season would bring the death of the popular Cattani, played by Michele Placido, provoked protest from ''La Piovra'' fans. News reports said Tuesday that one fan sent a telegram to the RAI television studios threatening to commit suicide if Cattani was killed off.

Placido, after four seasons of playing Cattani, says he had tired of the part and wanted to move on to other projects. ''I couldn't bear the thought of doing another season. I'm glad Cattani is dead, for me it's a rebirth,'' he said.

However, Cattani's death does not mean the end of ''La Piovra.'' To carry on the legacy of the commissioner will be the tough and beautiful anti-Mafia judge Silvia Conti, played by Patricia Millardet, who cradling Cattani's bullet-ridden body, swore revenge and ''never to back down'' to the Mafia.

Millardet will be the protagonist of the fifth season of ''La Piovra,'' which begins filming in New York in June.

Monday night's audience was the largest for any single episode of a miniseries in Italy, and one of the highest ratings for any broadcast.