This year's Stanley Cup Finals re-established playoff hockey as a competitive, compelling programming option, particularly against the repeats and reality that define summertime prime time.
Last night's 2.9/9 was 123% above last year's clinching Game Four. And the four games NBC aired (Versus aired the first two, which the league and the network may want to rethink) grew 130% compared with last year and 53% over the thrilling seven-game series two years ago.
This essentially made it a two-network race. Sure, the CW also offered competition, with "Farmer Wants a Wife" (0.8/2) and a repeat of the catty catwalk competition "America's Next Top Model," which rated a 0.5/2. For the night, the network delivered a 0.6/2.
And CBS and ABC aired reruns and reality -- or a combination of the two -- with CBS edging ABC with a 1.8/5 to a 1.7/5. CBS had repeats of the "Price Is Right Million Dollar Spectacular" (1.6/5), "Criminal Minds" (1.6/4) and "CSI: NY" (2.1/6). ABC did have one original episode, but it performed like a repeat, as "Men in Trees" was last in its timeslot with a 1.4/4, down from lead-in "Supernanny" (2.1/6). A "Wife Swap" rerun started off the night with a 1.7/5.
But despite its low ratings, the ball should bounce ABC's way, literally and figuratively, as starting tonight, the Stanley Cup ice melts away to the hardwood of the NBA Finals, with historic rivals Boston and Los Angeles squaring off.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Thursday: It's not exactly Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, but Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett bring big personalities -- and big games -- to the NBA Finals, starting at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Friday: A good, escapist summer blockbuster at the local Cineplex.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
One of the reasons networks pay spiraling rights fees for sports is as a prime-time promotional platform. The first summer test comes tonight as NBC debuts "Fear Itself," which was promoted heavily during the Stanley Cup Finals.
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NOTE: A share is a percentage of TV households that have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day, unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of a commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.