NEW YORK — National Basketball Assn. playoff games shot TNT’s primetime schedule into first place among basic cable networks for May.
That’s the good news. Unfortunately, audience disenchantment with pro basketball this season ended up slashing 17% off TNT’s average rating from May 2000. For the entire playoffs, TNT and TBS averaged only a 2.3 rating, down 18% from last year’s 2.8 rating.
TNT’s year-to-year decline mirrored the less-than-stellar Nielsen performance in May of most of the top-rated cable networks. Four more of the top 10 networks fell off by double digits in primetime May-to-May: USA (down 24%), Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite (17%), TBS (17%) and ESPN (21%).
Lifetime invoked bragging rights, saying it’s the only top-10-rated cable network to actually go up in May, gaining 6% to a 1.7 average rating in primetime, No. 2 overall behind TNT.
Two top-10 nets wound up flat year-to-year: Disney Channel, at a 1.3 rating (good for seventh place overall), and Discovery, at a 1.0 (10th place).
Headlock on ratings
TNN’s two separate Monday night World Wrestling Federation hours, at 9 and 10, dominated the ratings for the month, grabbing eight of the 10 top-rated individual slots and propelling TNN into a tie for 11th place with the History Channel. TNN jumped 50% in primetime ratings from the previous May, when USA carried Monday night WWF cablecasts.
The only non-WWF events to make the top 10:
- A Los Angeles Lakers-San Antonio Spurs NBA playoff game harvested a 4.4 rating in cable homes on TNT May 21, tying the event for sixth place overall in May with two WWF cablecasts on TNN.
- In a tie for ninth with another WWF hour was FX’s coverage of the Pontiac Excitement NASCAR race May 5. Another three high-rated NASCAR cablecasts sped FX to a 33% gain in May, giving it a tie for 13th place in primetime with the Learning Channel and MTV.
The best-rated primetime original movie for the month was Lifetime’s “Sex, Lies & Obsession,” which scored a 3.4 rating in cable homes May 7. The two best-rated theatrical movies for the month were “Blade,” with Wesley Snipes, on TNT and “The Siege,” with Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis, on USA. Each averaged a 2.6 rating in cable homes.
The highest-rated documentary special about Pearl Harbor was the History Channel’s “Tora, Tora, Tora: The Real Story of Pearl Harbor,” which averaged a 2.6 rating in cable homes Saturday, making it the most watched program ever on the History Channel.
Beyond TNN and FX, another seven cable networks grew in primetime by double digits in May (listed in order of their ranking): Learning Channel (up 14%), Comedy Central (20%), Fox News Channel (50%), Travel Channel (100%), Bravo (33%), MSNBC (33%) and Odyssey (100%).