NBA play-in games score big for TNT, ESPN

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) fouls Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
The Lakers’ play-in win over the Golden State Warriors was the top-rated show in prime-time last week.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The NBA’s decision to hold a play-in tournament for the second consecutive season proved to be a hit with television viewers, as ESPN’s telecast of the Lakers’ 103-100 victory over the Golden State Warriors drew the league’s second-largest audience of the season.

Wednesday’s game averaged 5.619 million viewers, the most for an ESPN NBA telecast since the 2019 Western Conference finals, most among prime-time cable programs between May 17 and Sunday and 12th overall, according to live-plus-same-day figures released Tuesday by Nielsen.

The only NBA game this season to draw more viewers was ABC’s Christmas Day telecast of the Lakers’ 138-115 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, which averaged 5.674 million viewers.


Golden State’s 117-112 overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in a play-in game was second among cable programs and 32nd overall for the week, averaging 3.633 million viewers, the most for a prime-time program on Friday.

As expected, viewership increased substantially for the two cable networks carrying NBA play-in and playoff games. TNT was third among cable networks for the week, two spots higher than the previous week, averaging 1.391 million viewers, 53.7% more than its 905,000 average the previous week.

ESPN was fourth, four spots higher than the previous week, averaging 1.375 million viewers, 88.4% more than its 730,000 average the previous week.

Fox News Channel won the prime-time cable network ratings race for the eighth consecutive week and 16th time in 17 weeks, averaging 2.043 million viewers. Its most-watched program was the Monday edition of the political talk show “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” third among cable programs and 38th overall, averaging 3.179 million viewers.

MSNBC was second for the third consecutive week, averaging 1.434 million viewers.

The top 20 cable programs consisted of nine Fox News Channel programs — five broadcasts of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and four of “Hannity”; five broadcasts of the MSNBC news and opinion program “The Rachel Maddow Show”; and six NBA games, three each on ESPN and TNT.


“NCIS” was the top-ranked prime-time program for the fourth consecutive week and eighth time in the 35-week-old 2020-21 television season. “NCIS” is the only scripted series to win a week this season.

Three other CBS programs followed — “60 Minutes” (8.263 million), “FBI” (7.593 million) and “The Equalizer” (7.126 million).

NBC’s “Chicago Fire” was the top-rated non-CBS program for the third consecutive week, averaging 6.843 million viewers, fifth for the week.

“American Idol” was ABC’s ratings leader for the eighth consecutive week it has aired, with its season finale averaging 6.5 million viewers, seventh for the week.

Fox’s biggest audience was the procedural drama “9-1-1,” which averaged 5.927 million viewers, 10th for the week. A “9-1-1” episode has been Fox’s most-watched program all 13 weeks it has aired this season.

The crime drama “Walker” was The CW’s biggest draw, averaging 1.002 million viewers, 114th among broadcast programs. Its overall rank was not available.

CBS finished first in the network race for the fourth consecutive week and 19th time in the season, averaging 4.57 million viewers. CBS’ average included 11.23 million viewers for the 30-minute runover of its coverage of Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship, which is not considered a separate program.

The order behind CBS was the same as the previous two weeks, with NBC finishing second, averaging 3.7 million, and ABC third, averaging 3.54 million.

Fox was fourth among the broadcast networks for the 17th consecutive week, averaging 2.55 million viewers. The CW again was fifth among the five major English-language broadcast networks, averaging 510,000 viewers.

“NCIS” was the most-streamed program in the latest weekly figures released by Nielsen, covering April 19-25, returning to the top after a three-week absence.

One week after finishing first, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” dropped to second, with 796 million minutes watched, 6.9% less than the 855 million minutes the previous week. The latest viewership figure includes the first three days of release of the finale of the six-episode Marvel miniseries that streams on Disney+.

“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” was the only non-Netflix program in the Top 10. Nielsen also announces streaming viewership of Hulu and Amazon Prime Video programming.