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ESPN sets ratings record with debut of Michael Jordan doc ‘The Last Dance’

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls celebrates winning the NBA Championship with his father after Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 20, 1993 at t,he America West Arena in Phoenix.
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls celebrates winning the NBA Championship with his father after Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 20, 1993, at the America West Arena in Phoenix.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The opening episodes of ESPN’s much-anticipated 10-part series on NBA legend Michael Jordan were the most-watched documentary programs in the network’s history.

Nielsen data showed the first two hours of the series airing Sunday averaged 6.1 million viewers. The previous record holder, “You Don’t Know Bo,” about baseball and football star Bo Jackson, was watched by 3.6 million viewers in 2012. The audience counts TV viewers only and does not include streaming platforms.

ESPN simulcast “The Last Dance” over two channels, with one version on ESPN 2 presented without the vulgarities used in the candid interviews with Jordan and other participants.

“The Last Dance” was the number one trending topic Sunday on Twitter and, at one point, 25 of the 30 trending topics were related to the show. Nearly every interview subject who appeared in the first two hours — including former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas — were trending.

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“The Last Dance” uses never-before-seen footage shot by a camera crew embedded with the Chicago Bulls for the 1997-98 NBA championship season — the sixth and final of the team’s stunning 1990s run — to the tell story of Jordan’s extraordinary career.

The highly touted project, directed by Jason Hehir, was scheduled to air in June. But with nearly every live sporting event wiped out by the shutdown rules imposed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, ESPN moved up the launch date. The network has treated the series as if it were a live event, with discussions of the film on its editions of “SportsCenter.”

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“The Last Dance” ranks as the most-watched telecast among adults ages 18 to 34 and 18 to 49 since sports halted across broadcast and cable networks last month.

The third and fourth episodes of “The Last Dance” air Sunday.


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