L.A. victory causes legit kudocast to drop 21%

HOLLYWOOD — You know the Tonys are in trouble when even New Yorkers would rather be watching the Lakers.

Despite the return of Rosie O’Donnell as host, the 54th annual Tony Awards on CBS have apparently sunk to an all-time ratings low, slam- dunked by NBC’s coverage of the deciding game in the NBA’s Western Conference finals.

According to prelim national numbers from Nielsen that will be updated today, the two-hour CBS portion of Sunday’s kudocast averaged a 6.2 rating and 11 share. If it holds up, that will be the lowest homes rating to date for the Tonys, a few ticks behind 1996’s 6.5/11.

Broadway’s biggest night faced unusually stiff competition this year, including the down-to-the-wire pro basketball game on NBC, which surged to an all-time best rating for the seventh game in a Western final. The 14.5/23 overnight score for the Portland Trail Blazers-Los Angeles Lakers contest is the highest for any NBA playoff game this season and tops the 13.7/23 overnight rating for the seventh game of the Utah-Seattle series in 1996.

40 million check game

NBC estimates that 40 million viewers watched at least some of the basketball game (which was won by the Lakers), also a record for a Western final and up from an estimated 38 million for the 1996 Utah-Seattle clincher.

In New York, the Tonys (11.0/16) settled for a third-place finish from 9-11, behind basketball (13.6/20) and ABC’s combo of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The Practice” (12.3/17). Despite dropping from tops in its market a year ago, Gotham’s Tonys rating slipped by just 6% from 1999 (11.7/17).

In the 10:30 half-hour — after the game ended — New York gave Tony a winning 11.6 rating, edging ABC’s “The Practice” (11.2).

The Lakers were the only game in Los Angeles: The NBA contest averaged a 29.4/51 from 4:30 to 7:30 PDT, peaking in the 7 o’clock half-hour with a 37.3/59 — an astonishing 50 shares ahead of second-place “60 Minutes” on CBS.

Tonys sink in the West

The Tonys, which did not face direct competition from basketball in the West, settled for a 6.6/10 in Los Angeles, down 20% from last year’s 7.8/13.

Even more than other awards shows, the Tonys rely on big major-market ratings to boost its national average. This year’s prelim national rating of 6.2/11, for example, is down 21% from its 7.8/13 overnight rating in the nation’s 48 metered markets — a much sharper drop than most programs see and reflective of its low scores in the nation’s smaller markets.

So with New York viewers distracted by basketball and Los Angeles likely in too celebratory of a mood to switch over from the court to the stage, the national Tonys rating took a hit.

After a two-year ratings burst in 1997 and 1998 — thanks largely to Broadway fan O’Donnell serving as host — this year’s prelim national result (6.2) has fallen well below its 1990-1995 average (8.3).

O’Donnell returns

Last year’s show scored a 7.0, a sharp drop from 1998 (8.4) and 1997 (9.6). O’Donnell returned as host this year after a one-year break.

Among the top 10 markets, kudocast fared best in New York and Philadelphia (10.7/15).

Besides the huge score in its own back yard, the Lakers-Trail Blazers game fared best in the top 10 markets in Chicago (20.0/30) and New York (13.6/20). In Portland, the game did a whopping 41.8/68, peaking with a 48.6/73 in the final half-hour.

The best-of-seven National Basketball Assn. Finals between the Lakers and Indiana Pacers begin Wednesday in Los Angeles, with all games airing on NBC.

After rubbing their palms in anticipation of a possible New York-Los Angeles final as recently as a week ago, NBC execs now will gladly take at least one of the nation’s two largest markets in the finals, especially with an Indiana-Portland matchup looking likely for most of Sunday night.

New York-L.A. the best

Indiana represents the 26th biggest market in the country, Portland the 23rd; their combined viewership accounts for less than 2% of U.S. viewers. New York and Los Angeles, conversely, are the top two markets respectively, repping a combined 12% of the country and making a Knicks-Lakers final the dream matchup from a ratings standpoint.

NBC won the night in homes and total viewers — its first victory on a Sunday since Game 2 of the World Series last October.

In the key demo of adults 18-49, the Peacock was also a winner, topping second-place ABC by 8 shares. The NBA game averaged an 8.0/19 in the demo from 9-10, topping “Millionaire” (prelim 6.7/16).

The Tonycast, as usual, skewed older, with its estimated adults 18-49 rating of 2.0/5 dragging CBS to fourth on the night among young adults.

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