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Hoop wars merit shot at primetime

In the first official sign of summer, NBC’s smash hit “ER” slipped below a 30 share, to a 15.1/26, illustrating the point that when it comes to ratings, there’s no worse combination than warm weather, national holidays and loads of repeats.

The three networks kicked off summer with a typically low-rated Memorial Day weekend, yet it didn’t have to be that way. NBC televised some of the most exciting basketball in recent memory… none of which ended up in primetime over the weekend.

The treatment given the basketball playoffs by NBC contrasts sharply with the manner in which the networks handle the playoffs for Major League Baseball, which schedules its postseason games in primetime – even for weekend games – at the webs’ request to increase television revenue.

While NBC has no guarantee that these matchups will provide solid ratings, and indeed a quick glance reveals that the biggest markets – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago – were not in the conference finals, Houston (11th largest), Orlando (22nd), Indianapolis (24th) and San Antonio (39th) have big enough stars and played exciting enough basketball that the markets didn’t matter.

The three day games over the weekend averaged an 8.6 rating and 16 share in the overnights. Indiana’s buzzer-beating 94-93 victory over Orlando on Memorial Day, May 29, snared a 9.5 rating, including an 8.7 in New York and a 9.9 in Chicago, two of the three main markets with teams eliminated in the previous round.

By contrast, in repeat-laden primetime, on Saturday, May 27, NBC managed only a 5.9/13 for the evening (admittedly, this placed the web ahead of CBS, which earned a 5.8/13 and ABC, which mustered only a 5.6/12). On Sunday, May 28, NBC improved to a 6.9/14, but slipped to third, as ABC drew a whopping 8.7/18 and CBS an 8.4/17. NBC returned to relatively normal repeat ratings on Monday with its second-place 9.6/17 (CBS had a 9.9/18 and ABC an 8.3/15).

Finally, on Tuesday, May 30, NBC injected some playoff action into its lineup, earning a solid 9.8/18 against ABC’s 10.3/18 for the night, and dominating after the playoffs began at 9 p.m. From there on, NBC earned an 11.3/20, thrashing ABC’s original programming, the “World Music Awards,” 9.6/16 and CBS’ Tuesday Movie “Intruders Part I,” 9.5/16.

On Wednesday, the NBA earned an 11.0/20, although it couldn’t keep up with ABC’s “Grace Under Fire” and “Roseanne” repeats and a new “Primetime Live,” which posted a 13.7/23 from 9-11 p.m.

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