NEW YORK (AP) — In basketball terms, “The Last Dance” had a strong fourth quarter.
The last two episodes of the 10-part Michael Jordan documentary, strung out over the last five Sunday nights, averaged 5.9 million viewers, the Nielsen company said. It was simulcast on ESPN and ESPN2.
That’s easily the highest-rated documentary project ever for the sports network. It was also a desperately-needed bright spot for ESPN, which has been suffering because of the absence of live sporting events during the coronavirus pandemic.
It was considered such a high-profile event that some newspaper sports pages — also deprived of material — have covered the documentary like its own event.
“The exceptional content of the series has cut through culturally and sparked conversations far beyond ESPN platforms,” said Connor Schell, the network’s executive vice president for content.
The series also had a consistency that the former Chicago Bulls star would appreciate. Live viewership for each episode ranged between 4.9 and 6.3 million people, meaning viewers kept coming back, Nielsen said.
The live count will also ultimately be a fraction of the series’ impact. Adding delayed viewing through DVRs and reruns, the first episode has already been seen nearly 15 million times, ESPN said.
ESPN hopes to make Sunday night documentary-watching a habit among its viewers. In the next month, the network has scheduled films about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, martial arts star Bruce Lee and the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Led again by a dominant performance by “60 Minutes,” CBS was the most popular broadcast network, averaging 4.9 million viewers in prime time last week. ABC averaged 3.9 million viewers, NBC had 3.5 million, Fox had 2.8 million, Univision had 1.5 million, ION Television had 1.2 million, Telemundo had 900,000 and the CW had 660,000.
Fox News Channel was the most-watched cable network in prime time, averaging 3.39 million viewers. MSNBC had 2.01 million, CNN had 1.48 million, TLC had 1.31 million and HGTV had 1.29 million.
ABC’s “World News Tonight” led the evening newscasts with an average of 10 million viewers last week. NBC’s “Nightly News” had 8.8 million viewers and the “CBS Evening News” had 6 million.
For the week of May 11-17, here are Nielsen’s 20 most popular programs, their networks and viewerships: