NBA can’t lay a glove on Jackson

While Hakeem Olajuwon was dominating Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jackson was outscoring the two big men combined, as June 14 turned into a double dose of bad news for NBC.

Sudden ending

O’Neal was supposed to carry the Orlando Magic to an NBA title and NBC back to the ratings zenith it had attained at the height of the Michael Jordan era two years ago. He disappointed on both accounts.

While the ratings failed to match Jordan’s 1993 title run, if the Magic had managed to extend the Houston Rockets to six or seven games, NBC would have been happy with the improvement over last season.

Ratings-wise, the Magic outdrew last year’s Eastern Conference finalist, the New York Knicks, in each of the first four battles against the Rockets. But the Knicks ultimately proved more valuable to NBC, providing the network with two extra nights of solid summertime ratings. (It would have been three nights, but Game 5 was preempted a year ago along with programming on every other network while police tailed a certain white Bronco.)

This year’s Game 2 on Friday, June 9, followed up a solid first game showing (Variety, June 12-18) with a respectable though unspectacular 12.0 rating and 23 share. This was an improvement from last year’s 10.7/21, although each game won only one half-hour against ABC’s sitcom reruns and “20/20.” By comparison, 1993’s Game 2 scored a 14.6/29 and won all four half-hours.

Game 3 on Sunday, June 11, improved to a 14.1/25, a 14% improvement from last season (though still 17% below 1993).

Outside influence

The toughest competition came from Jackson’s appearance on “PrimeTime Live,” during Game 4, but unlike the O.J. Simpson chase last year, where even NBC abandoned basketball, this celebrity hounding mostly brought in outside viewers to ABC, rather than pull fans away from the game. The interview snagged a 25.9/42 rating, outscoring even the recent sweeps performance of “Jurassic Park.”

The NBA contest suffered a half-rating point drop in the first half-hour of the ABC newsmag from a 14.1/24 to a 13.6/22, before rebounding by 1.1 points at 10:30.

Again, the game did not fare as well as Game 4 of 1993, but outscored last year’s counterpart. But the biggest ratings will never be posted, since they tend to come in Game 6 and, especially Game 7 – last year’s finale snagged a 17.9/31, the 1993 clincher, Game 6, earned a 20.3/39.

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