Audiences swing to CBS drama

The NBA Finals are off to a strong ratings start as expected for ABC, towering over a pair of drama series premieres on rival nets Thursday.

On a busy night, CBS drama “Swingtown” was the more potent of the newbies, placing second to hoops action in the 10 o’clock hour and easily topping NBC’s “Fear Itself.” “Fear’s” 18-49 demo, which was roughly 46% male, likely was more affected by the game.

Fox remained strong as well with “So You Think You Can Dance.”

For CBS, drama “Swingtown” averaged a solid 2.8 rating/8 share in adults 18-49 and 8.57 million viewers overall — building on its repeat “CSI” lead-in by 17% in adults 18-49 (from 2.4/7) and by 29% in adults 18-34 (1.8/6 vs. 1.4/4). And in another good sign, it maintained or built by a smidge from the first half-hour to the second in all key adult demos.

Roughly 39% of its 18-49 aud was male (vs. 36% for lead-in “CSI”).

The drama about the culturally transformative decade of the 1970s, has gotten plenty of coverage in the press for its provocative themes of sexual awakening and swinging — and critics have given it mixed reviews. CBS had originally planned it for the 2007-08 season but held it back for summer, due in part to the writers’ strike.

While CBS has reason to be pleased with “Swingtown,” NBC can’t be very happy with the bow of “Fear Itself,” an anthology horror skein that settled for a 2.0/6 in 18-49 and 5.26 million viewers overall. It declined from its “Last Comic Standing” lead-in (2.1/7 in 18-49, 4.97m) and dipped a bit in its second half-hour to place third.

Fox’s two-hour “So You Think You Can Dance” (3.3/10 in 18-49, 9.25m) was Thursday’s No. 2 show in most demos, though it came in a bit below its previous week’s delivery.

As for basketball, Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers averaged a hearty 5.4/17 in 18-49 and 13.38 million viewers overall from 9:06-11:59 p.m.). This is the best start for the finals in four years and reps a 46% improvement in 18-49 over the San Antonio-Cleveland opener of a year ago (3.7/12).

The Lakers-Celtics matchup not only is a revival of a popular Finals pairing of the ’80s, but it’s also the best possible matchup of playoff teams that ABC could have gotten.

Of course the large hometown markets are a big help. Game did a 22.8 household rating/40 share in No. 2 national Los Angeles and a 21.7/37 in No. 7 market Boston — with the cities accounting for roughly 18.6% of the national audience (1.82 million households out of 9.81 million).

Sunday’s Game 2 from Boston was expected to rate even higher. Action shifts to the West Coast beginning with Tuesday’s Game 3.

Basketball wasn’t the only sporting event to score in the ratings for ABC, as horse racing’s Belmont Stakes put up impressive numbers Saturday.

In Nielsen metered-market overnights for the hour that included the race (6:15-7:15 p.m. ET), Da’Tara’s shocking upset of heavily favored Big Brown averaged a 10.5 household rating, up 169% from last year’s race (3.9). It also topped the rating of this year’s Kentucky Derby by 11% (9.5) and the Preakness Stakes by 64% (6.4).

Big Brown was attempting to become the first horse in 30 years to win the Triple Crown, having previously won the Derby and Preakness.

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