A horse race beat two Tonys and the Lakers last week.
Here's a look at the week's Birdstones and Smarty Joneses:
Belmont Stakes. Smarty Jones's failed attempt to be the first winner of the Triple Crown in 26 years was the most watched program on television last week. Yes, it trounced even HBO's much ballyhooed season finale of "The Sopranos." An average of 22 million people caught NBC's "race segment" coverage of the 136th Belmont Stakes, from 6:18 to 7:19 p.m. Saturday -- more than twice as many as sat down for the season so-long of "The Sopranos" the next night. And during the 2 minutes 27.5 seconds of the horse race, an average of about 28 million viewers were glued to NBC. Alas, the Belmont Stakes ran before the official 8 p.m. start of prime time Saturday, which only makes its ratings feat more impressive but also means it does not go into Nielsen's official weekly prime-time ratings records.
"The Sopranos." The fifth season finale of HBO's mob drama bagged nearly 11 million viewers Sunday night, which is a great number for a pay cable network that's only in 32 million of the country's 108 million TV homes. We wanted to make sure to say that up front because HBO suits can sometimes get a bit testy when they read things about their network that aren't glowing. Now that we have that out of the way, the show's previous season finale, which occurred way back in December 2002, scored 12.5 million. HBO told the Associated Press it attributes the decline to the fact that before, when Nielsen gave an HBO number, it was actually the number of people who were watching all of the HBO networks, including HBO Family, HBO2, etc., in that time period. It's true, Nielsen did that; then it stopped taking those stupid pills, and now when it gives a number for "The Sopranos," it's actually the number for "The Sopranos." The decline in finale ratings also may have to do with the fact that the fourth-season closer did not run opposite Game 1 of the NBA Finals featuring the Los Angeles Lakers. Which brings us to the fun fight that broke out yesterday when HBO reps said "The Sopranos" had beat all comers in its time slot, including Game 1 of the NBA Finals, while ABC suits noted it had not. Nielsen's going with ABC.
"Summerland." Hot California chick inherits dead sister's three kids and scores WB's biggest summer drama debut yet, 4.6 million viewers. The show attracted the night's largest swarm of teens.
Miss Universe. Speaking of hot chicks, this year's Donald Trump-owned international babe-o-rama nailed an average of 10.5 million viewers. Yes, it is a smaller crowd than last year's 12 million but, hey, it's almost as many viewers as watched the season finale of "The Sopranos" -- which did a great number for a pay cable network that's only in . . . you know the drill. And NBC noted that last year the pageant had a bigger, "Dog Eat Dog" lead-in; we'll think about that tomorrow.
NBA Finals. ABC finally gets a break! The return of the L.A. Lakers and their surprise loss to the Detroit Pistons caused the first game of the NBA Finals to jump 60 percent compared with last year's Game 1 among viewers of all ages, and 75 percent among the 18- to 49-year-olds the network covets. That, in turn, catapulted ABC to a second-place finish in the demographic for the first time since the Academy Awards.
"Good Girls Don't." The debut of Oxygen network's first scripted series, which, the network says, is about five flawed friends who will go to just about any length to find love, happiness or, at the very least, a promising hooker . . . er, hookup, pulled in 120,000 viewers Friday night. That is not a typo; it's even a lot better than the network's previous four-week average in the time slot of 85,000 viewers. It's just that it's a really lousy number.
Tony Awards. Opposite the Lakers and "The Sopranos" -- which, although down compared with last season's finale did a really good number for a pay cable network that's blah, blah, blah -- the legit theater awards on CBS played to its smallest-ever crowd, 6.5 million.
The week's 10 most-watched programs, in order, were NBC's Belmont Stakes; ABC's NBA Finals Game 1; CBS's "CSI," "CSI: Miami," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Two and a Half Men" and "Without a Trace"; NBC's "Law & Order" and "Crossing Jordan"; and HBO's "The Sopranos."