Game 2 of NBA Finals shoots ABC to victory

The star power added to this year’s Tonycast paid off. Viewership of Sunday’s telecast on CBS was up by more than a million viewers, marking the show’s largest crowd since 2006.

The 63rd awards event — perhaps boosted by CBS faves past (Angela Lansbury) and present (host Neil Patrick Harris) — averaged a preliminary 7.5 million viewers on the Eye, up vs. last year’s 6.27 million, according to Nielsen.

Crowd was the largest for Broadway’s big night since 2006 (7.7 million) and the show’s second largest aud in six years. The telecast not only had a higher volume of Hollywood types (Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Anne Hathaway, Kevin Spacey, Edie Falco, James Gandolfini) but also perfs from Dolly Parton for tuner “9 to 5″ and Poison for “Rock of Ages.”

In both total viewers and women 25-54 (2.1 rating/6 share), the Tonys ranked second to basketball from 8 to 11 p.m. It remains a laggard in adults 18-49 (1.3/4), although this number repped an improvement over last year’s 1.1/3.

Gotham was once again the top local market, according to Nielsen overnights, bagging an 11.3 household rating/18 share — nearly double the national average of 5.3/10. Also well above average were West Palm Beach, Fla. (9.8/15), Baltimore (8.1/13), Hartford-New Haven, Conn. (7.8/13) and San Francisco (7.6/15).

For CBS, the Tony gains mean that all three of its major awards shows in 2009 have produced double-digit gains vs. last year. The Grammy Awards in February rose 14% in 18-49, and the Academy of Country Music Awards shot up 30% in the demo and hit a nine-year high in total viewers as it moved to April from May this year.

Meanwhile, over on ABC, the NBA Finals series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic is off to the best start for pro basketball’s championship round in five years — although the Magic will need to win tonight or the air will come out of this ratings balloon.

Sunday’s game averaged a 5.8 rating in adults 18-49 and 14 million viewers overall, according to time zone-adjusted preliminary nationals from Nielsen — up about 5% vs. Game 2 last year between the Lakers and Boston Celtics.

Through two games, this year’s NBA Finals is the highest rated since 2004 (Lakers-Detroit Pistons), which averaged a big 7.0/20 in 18-49 and 15.7 million viewers overall. It’s also the second highest-rated in the years since ABC took over the event from NBC in 2003.

The strong start is not a surprise given how well the two conference finals series performed. Both ESPN and TNT delivered some record numbers last month (Daily Variety, June 2).

A victory by the favored Magic tonight would trim the Lakers’ lead in the best-of-seven series to two games to one and ensure at least a fifth game on Sunday. But a Lakers victory would pretty much end the series as Kobe Bryant and Co. would take a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead into Thursday’s Game 4.

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