NBA ratings bounce NBC’s way

Though down 4% from year-ago results, NBC’s coverage of the NBA Finals is dazzling the primetime competition and has a legitimate shot at breaking all NBA scoring records this week.

Four games into this year’s series, ratings are down slightly from 1996 but are strong enough to propel NBC to a June 2-8 weeklong win — with a margin of victory that’s the widest for any net since Feb. 17-23 (when NBC ran “Schindler’s List” and “Asteroid, Part 2”). In adults 18-49, NBC enjoyed its biggest bulge since last summer’s Olympics.

The previous four NBA series include the highest, second-highest and fourth-highest-rated NBA Finals ever (1993, 1996 and 1991, respectively).

The Bulls have proven hugely popular in four previous appearances in the finals, but the team has never played a “do-or-die” game in which they faced elimination. So if the Utah Jazz can win games tonight or Friday and force the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls to face potential elimination, the resulting Nielsens could be the highest in NBA history.

With basketball monopolizing June’s dwindling audiences, most of the competition got stuffed last week.

ABC, beset by big weekend woes, slipped to the lowest households rating ever for one of the Big Three in a week not disrupted by the July 4 holiday, a political convention or the Olympics. Still, the Alphabet web rated higher than either CBS or Fox in the key adults 18-49 and 25-54 demos, two of the stronger indicators of overall advertiser demand and revenue.

The week’s adults 18-49 averages were: NBC, a 6.6 rating 20 share (down in rating by 11% vs. results for the same week last year); ABC, 3.6/11 (down 18%); Fox, 3.4/11 (up 21%); CBS, 3.1/10 (up 7%); UPN, 1.6/5 (up 14%); WB, 1.1/3 (up 22%). NBC televised the week’s 10 highest-rated shows in the 18-49 demo, marking the first time a network has swept that top 10 since Nov. 14-20, 1988.

Monday

NBC breezed on Monday of this week (June 9), as “Dateline NBC” (11.8 rating, 21 share) won the 10-11 p.m. hour by 8 shares. The vidpic “Justice for Annie” (8.9/16) also led its slot.

Fox’s new lineup (“Mad TV,” 4.5/9; the premiere of “Ruby Wax,” 4.4/8; and two episodes of “Married … With Children,” 4.4/8 and 4.9/8) slid to that net’s lowest Monday 18-49 rating since last Oct. 14 (baseball playoffs), but did improve by 24% on Fox’s year-ago Monday average. The 9 p.m. “Married” stumbled to that series’ lowest firstrun rating since Jan. 10, 1988.

Sunday

Though down 7% from last year’s fourth game (on a Wednesday), basketball won the night for NBC by 16 shares among adults 18-49.

Fox was second in that demo, but CBS easily took second for the night in adults 25-54. ABC’s low-rated vidpic “Without Consent” tied CBS’ older-skewing “Our Son, the Matchmaker” in adults 18-49 despite trailing by 6 shares in households.

Saturday

Fox captured the night in adults 18-49 while CBS dominated in homes. NBC’s “Pretender” is set to challenge “Dr. Quinn” this fall, beating “Quinn” last Saturday in CBS’ target demo, adults 25-54.

ABC’s “Spy Game” bumbled to what’s apparently the worst regular-programming rating ever that hour for any of the Big Three. That helped knock ABC down to the second-lowest-rated night in ABC-CBS-NBC history (beating only ABC’s 3.0 from six Saturdays earlier).

Friday

Game 3 of the NBA Finals slam-dunked the competition, improving by 2% on last year’s first Friday telecast, the second game of that Chicago-Seattle final (while at the same time slipping 10% below last year’s Game 3, telecast on the higher-viewership Sunday). Hoops broke a 28-week winning streak for “20/20” in that Friday 10-11 p.m. hour.

NBC might want to consider shifting “Dateline” to the Friday 8-9 p.m. hour permanently. Last week “Dateline” reported the Peacock’s best 18-49 share that hour in the 19 weeks since “Dateline” last ran there. In fact, those are NBC’s two best non-sports results in that hour in nearly 16 months.

ABC may pay a price for benching “Family Matters” (headed to CBS this fall) at 8 p.m. for “Step By Step” (also headed to CBS but in a different time period). ABC’s first try with “Step” in that slot couldn’t equal the 18-49 share of the last five “Matters” there, despite a firstrun episode.

CBS firstruns “Dave’s World” and “Life … and Stuff” expired with the Eye’s worst 25-54 average that hour since at least last summer.

Thursday

NBC’s usual Thursday win got a boost from a special firstrun “NewsRadio,” which built by 3% on its 18-49 lead-in from “Friends.”

That’s NBC’s second-best build in the slot in 11 weeks. “ER” declined by 14% vs. its year-ago 18-49 average.

Billy Graham preemptions dropped “Diagnosis Murder” to its lowest regular-slot rating ever.

Wednesday

The highest-rated Game 2 of an NBA Finals in six years kept NBC far ahead for the night. “Grace Under Fire,” a surprising omission from ABC’s fall sked, tumbled to its lowest rating ever (as did slot rival “NewsRadio”).

Tuesday

ABC and NBC tied for the night in adults 18-49, but both these aging lineups were down sharply from the year-ago Tuesday, ABC’s by 20% and NBC’s by 24%. A firstrun episode of the canceled ABC sitcom “Life’s Work” improved by a potent 24% on its 18-49 lead-in from “Roseanne,” to lead the 8:30 slot.

Monday

Fox outgunned the 18-49 competition with its rerun of “Tombstone,” but CBS led in homes on Monday, June 2 (Daily Variety, June 4).

A firstrun “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” dug up its best rating since March.

Each rating point represents an estimated 970,000 households, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. The share is the same sort of percentage, except that it’s measured against only the households in which TV is being watched during the timeslot involved.

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