Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley versus Chandler, Joey and Ross. That's the tale of the tape for Thursday nights beginning next November, when TNT moves its NBA telecasts, shown for the past 11 seasons on Friday nights, up one day. "Thursday is a terrific night for PUTs [People Using Televisions]," says Turner Sports president Mark Lazarus, citing one reason behind TNT's switch. "There are 27 percent more males aged 18 to 34 watching television on Thursdays than on Fridays."
The 1999-2000 NBA regular season saw ratings for Turner Sports' games—mostly shown on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays—slide a rim-rattling 24%. ( NBC, whose games air mostly on weekends, watched its ratings plunge 24%.) Lazarus's formula for a Lazarus-like return to Michael Jordan-era Nielsen numbers is based on continuity. "By airing the NBA on three consecutive evenings [Tuesdays on TBS and Wednesdays and Thursdays on TNT], we hope fans will treat the NBA like a soap opera," he says. "There's no more powerful promotional statement in television than 'Tune in tomorrow night.' "
Ah, but on Thursday nights there is one that recently has had even more potency in the Nielsens: "Immediately following Friends on NBC." NBA fans who since 1990 have made it a habit to end their week with a Friday-night NBA on TNT doubleheader will now have to figure out on Thursdays which come-on is the more seductive.