TNT Slam Dunks USA

While it’s not exactly on a par with the Philadelphia 76ers interrupting the Boston Celtics’ dynastic eight-year NBA Championship streak in 1967, TNT last week finally put an end to USA Network’s year-long chain of ratings victories, averaging 2.79 million total viewers in prime time.

According to Nielsen Media Research data for the week ended May 4, TNT bumped USA out of the top spot for the first time in 17 weeks, thanks in large part to its NBA playoff coverage. Pro hoops accounted for four of the week’s top 20 most-watched programs on ad-supported cable, including the April 29 Suns-Spurs matchup, which saw the defending champs eliminate Steve Nash and company in front of a national TV audience of 4.67 million viewers.

While snatching the ratings crown from USA, TNT also reigned supreme among all three major demos, averaging 1.59 million adults 18-49, 1.46 million adults 25-54 and 838,000 viewers 18-34.

Unsurprisingly, the playoffs contributed significantly to TNT’s overall demo performance, as last week’s games accounted for five of the top 10 programs on ad-supported cable among 18-49s and 25-54s.

Through its first 22 NBA playoff games of the 2008-09 season, TNT has grown its overall viewership by 10 percent, averaging around 2.9 million fans per telecast. The Turner net is also up 18 percent among adults 18-49 and 18-34, and improved by 21 percent among the 25-54 demo.

USA slipped to a somewhat-unfamiliar second place finish on the week, averaging 2.33 million total viewers. The net took the silver across the board, averaging 1.19 million 18-49s, 1.09 million 25-54s and 630,000 18-34s. The net drew it largest audience of the week with Monday night’s WWE: Raw, which averaged 4.65 million viewers between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Thanks to The O’Reilly Factor’s big get, Fox News rumbled into third place on the week, averaging 1.83 million viewers. On April 30 and May 1, Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared in a two-part interview on the FNC flagship program, drawing 3.66 million viewers and 939,000 adults 25-54 on the first night and 3.19 million viewers and 694,000 members of the demo the following night.

The interview marked the first time that the former First Lady and Democratic presidential hopeful had made an appearance on The O’Reilly Factor.

Nick-at-Nite/Nickelodeon took fourth place on the week, averaging 1.71 million viewers, as the Jamie Lynn Spears vehicle Zoey 101 wrapped its four-season run with a one-hour movie, Chasing Zoey. The Zoey special averaged 5.11 million total viewers on May 2 in the 8 p.m. time slot, leading into a 30-minute clip show, “Blast From the Past,” which delivered 5.05 million viewers.

All told, Nickelodeon accounted for five of the week’s top-rated telecasts on ad-supported cable.

TBS closed out the top five ad-supported nets with 1.63 million viewers. TBS also took third among the three major demos.