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Given the near-complete lack of sports around the entire planet, it makes sense that fans are looking everywhere and embracing anything that even resembles an athletic competition. It's also not so much of a surprise that viewers flocked to ESPN's docu-series The Last Dance, which centered on arguably the greatest sports dynasty of all time, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. What's inarguable, though, is how extremely popular The Last Dance has been for ESPN. So popular, in fact, that parent company Disney made the call to bring the docu-series to a broadcast network.
Just two days after The Last Dance's final two installments aired on ESPN, the announcement was made that the entire docu-series would be re-airing in full on ABC. Not one to waste time, ABC will be kicking off The Last Dance's second run on Saturday, May 23, where it will maintain an airing schedule similar to that of the project's run on ESPN, which repeatedly set social media afire. Check out the schedule plans below.
Saturday, May 23: Episodes 1 and 2
Saturday, May 30: Episodes 3 and 4
Saturday, June 6: Episodes 5 and 6
Saturday, June 13: Episodes 7 and 8
Saturday, June 20: Episodes 9 and 10
It's perhaps questionable why Saturday was chosen for The Last Dance's broadcast debut, given the night's lack of TV buzz. That said, ABC execs might not have yet had very many openings available on the primetime schedule, but still wanted to get The Last Dance out to viewers while it remains a major topic of conversation. Which is a smart move, since basketball fans love to both glorify and lambaste Michael Jordan and the Bulls to anyone who will listen. And there's a chance for millions more people to be listening after the project shifts from ESPN to ABC.
Without a doubt, The Last Dance has become ESPN's most-watched documentary content ever, topping any and all of the acclaimed 30 for 30 entries. ("You Don't Know Bo" was the most-watched of those, bringing in 3.6 million people in 2012.) The first two episodes of The Last Dance were the most popular from live airings, reaching an average of 6.1 million people across both ESPN and ESPN2, with over half of that crowd slotting into the key 18-49 age demographic.
Though follow-up episodes didn't match those same averages, every episode seemed to bring in more than 5 million viewers in Live + Same Day totals. And the doubled-up finale that aired on Sunday, May 17, gave The Last Dance another upward boost, with the penultimate episode averaging 5.89 million viewers, with the final installment drawing in around 5.4 million people.
On the whole, The Last Dance averaged over 5.4 million viewers for its 10-episode run on ESPN. Those numbers are certainly better than what some of ABC's standard content has been bringing in. While American Idol's latest season has been a big winner on Sunday nights, and the Grey's Anatomy and Station 19 crossover combo anchored Thursday nights, the network's audience fluctuates elsewhere in the week. For instance, the spinoff The Bachelor: Listen to Your Heart never having topped 3 million viewers during its live airings, which didn't help the other newcomer The Baker and the Beauty bring in swaths of viewers. Maybe if either of those shows had Dennis Rodman and Carmen Elektra involved...
ABC aired its own follow-up to The Last Dance on Monday night, with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith hosting a special one-hour retrospective. Plus, the show's success has inspired other athlete-centric docu-series to go into development, such as one focusing on Magic Johnson.
Several of the big broadcast networks have been scrambling to acquire licensed programming in order to balance the lack of ongoing TV productions. The CW picked up Swamp Thing from DC Universe and Tell Me a Story from CBS All Access, while Fox is set to air SpectrumTV's scripted Bad Boys spinoff L.A.'s Finest, and NBC nabbed the Canadian medical drama Transplant, to name just a few examples. However, few acquisitions will make as much sense as giving Michael Jordan and The Last Dance a bigger spotlight to wow people with. Just please don't give him any pizza.
The Last Dance is set to debut on ABC on Saturday, May 23, at 8:00 p.m. ET. Here's hoping the producers are able to add more footage in that centers on those who absolutely needed more screen time.