There Can Only Be One Nielsen Winner

Rash Report: NBA Championship Game Two Does It for ABC

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- "There Can Only Be One" declares the tagline from the clever campaign that juxtaposes the faces of two basketball players sharing the same goal, an NBA Championship. The same could be said about the nightly network quest to win the Nielsen ratings race, which Sunday night went decisively to ABC. Game Two between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics was again the highest-rated program of the night, delivering a 4.3/12 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.
Game Two of the NBA Championship on ABC was the highest-rated program of the night on Sunday in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.
Game Two of the NBA Championship on ABC was the highest-rated program of the night on Sunday in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic.

And unlike the Celtics, ABC built an early lead and kept it, as opposed to nearly letting the game slip away. Delivering a decisive 3.5/11 for the night, ABC also benefited from a 3.1/9 for pre-game "NBA Countdown" and a 2.9/9 for "Jimmy Kimmel Live." ABC's opening tip was its only non-NBA related show, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which completed the clean sweep with a time slot winning 2.6/9. (All based on the Nielsen "fast affiliate ratings," which only track to 11 p.m. Final "live plus same-day" numbers, which may vary significantly, will be available tomorrow.)

Struggling to reach 2
As far as network TV is concerned, "There Can Only Be One" could also have referred to breaking a 2.0 nightly average rating, as NBC (1.7/5), Fox (1.7/5), CBS (1.6/5) and the CW (.4/1) all fell far short. Fox's performance was more understandable, as perhaps programmers rightly reasoned the young males who dominate the animated-comedy demos would be watching ABC's Game Two anyway. So the network went into the scheduling equivalent of the four-corner stall, running repeats of "The Simpsons" (1.9/6), "King of the Hill" (1.8/5), "Family Guy" (2.5/7) and "American Dad" (2.3/6). Even though all were reruns, a first-run of "Don't Forget the Lyrics" was even more off-key, finishing fourth with a .9/3.

NBC and CBS, conversely, are broadcasters that generally play to a broader audience. NBC's narrow scheduling strategy, however, of airing four reruns of "Most Outrageous Moments" (1.2/4; 1.3/5; 1.4/5; and 1.9/6) was limiting, and certainly not a strong lead-in to a two-hour "Dateline" (2.0/5).

CBS took a page out of Fox's playbook and aired reruns of "Cold Case" (1.8/5) and "The Unit" (1.0/3) against the game. Most notable was the dramatic drop-off for "The Unit," as CBS is taking a scheduling risk of moving the drama to 10 p.m. Sundays from its successful slot midweek.

Regis on rebound
The better news for CBS was that "Million Dollar Password" held its value, as the Regis Philbin game show held 95% of last week's debut demo and rose 50% from "60 Minutes" (1.4/5).

At least each of the non-NBA Big Three showed some original programming: The CW, conversely, had its own unfortunate version of "one" -- a one share, that is, for three hours of repeats: "One Tree Hill," .3/1; "Everybody Hates Chris," .3/1; "Aliens in America" .4/1; "The Game," .4/1; and "Girlfriends," .4/1.

"There Can Only Be One," may turn out to be the rallying cry of network TV this year, as it continues its commercial -- if not cultural -- dominance, with the upfront marketplace estimated to bring in $9.2 billion, as detailed by Ad Age's Brian Steinberg.

Monday: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? Well, not to the inquisitive historians and journalists who make PBS's "American Experience" such a great show. Part two of "Las Vegas: An Unconventional History" runs at 9 p.m. ET.
Tuesday: Assuming the Lakers show up, so should you, as "Game Three" of the NBA Finals resumes on ABC.

The blurring of broadcast and network is now almost complete, as cable comedy "The Bill Engvall Show" jumps from TBS to CBS (8 p.m. ET) and USA's "Nashville Star" will now strum on GE corporate cousin NBC. How they deliver compared to their cable runs will tell a lot about each media form.

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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
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