Kobe Bryant, Kendrick Perkins

AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

Fueled by the resurgent NBA Finals, TV ratings are going where TV ratings rarely go: up.

Through the first three full weeks of the summer season, the big four broadcast networks have combined to average 6.4 million viewers, up from 6.2 million for the same period last year.

The gain is modest—3 percent—but it's a gain. Unlike the 10 percent decline the big four networks collectively suffered during the just-completed regular season.

The summer, and especially ABC, have benefited from basketball's renewed Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers rivalry.

Viewership for the first five games of the finals are up 57 percent over last year, ABC said. Game six airs tonight. If the Lakers are good, and ABC is lucky, the series-deciding game seven will air Thursday night.

Still, it's not just basketball that's priming prime time.

NBC got a boost from hockey's resurgent Stanley Cup Finals. ABC got a late-airing season finale from Lost, not to mention from Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty. CBS found a new top 10 show in the Regis Philbin-hosted Million Dollar Password. Fox, the only network to add viewers last season, held steady with So You Think You Can Dance and its other reality shows.

The way things are going, the Celtics and Lakers might just get a fall spinoff.

Here's a look at the individual ratings highlights for the TV week ended Sunday, per Nielsen Media Research stats:

  • Make no mistake about basketball's impact on the numbers—the NBA Finals ran the show last week. Take away games three-five, and the most watched anything on TV was a repeat of CBS' Two and a Half Men (fourth place, 10.7 million).
  • Per usual, Million Dollar Password (seventh place, 9.36 million) led So You Think You Can Dance (10th place, 8.9 million for Wednesday's episode; 17th place, 8 million for Thursday's) as the most watched summer series.
  • Per usual, So You Think You Can Dance (fifth place in the 18-49 demo for Wednesday's episode; seventh place in the demo for Thursday's) outdid Million Dollar Password (24th place in the demo) among viewers who can still aspire to agility.
  • CBS' Swingtown (21st place, 7 million) isn't striking out—except with crime-drama fans. The new show about swingers lost nearly 30 percent of its lead-in from an old CSI (sixth place, 9.4 million).
  • NBC got decent performances from Nashville Star (23rd place, 6.7 million) and Celebrity Circus (24th place, 6.5 million—and an even stronger 12th place showing in the 18-to-49 demographic), which is more than can be said of ABC's The Mole (70th place, 3.9 million), or even NBC's Last Comic Standing (66th place, 4 million).
  • CBS' Tony Awards telecast (29th place, 6.3 million) was up a smidgen from last year's all-time low.
  • As small a niche as the Tonys seems to serve, Sondheim fans should be pleased to know NBC's American Gladiators (37th place, 5.6 million) serves an even smaller one.
  • ABC's Men in Trees (54th place, 4.6 million for its series finale) went out with a whimper.
  • Nick's iCarly (4.5 million) celebrated its new soundtrack album à la Hannah Montana, as the most watched comedy or drama series in all of cable.
  • Other top-rated cable shows: Lifetime's Army Wives (4.2 million); USA's In Plain Sight (4.1 million); and, the season finale of Bravo's Top Chef (3.5 million).
  • Disney Channel eked one more prime-time broadcast, for now, out of High School Musical 2 (3 million) before devoting itself to the Jonas Brothers' Camp Rock, premiering Friday.

Led by Regis and reruns, CBS was the most watched network, averaging 7.2 million viewers of all ages. Led by extremely tall men, ABC was the most watched network among young adults, averaging 3.3 million 18-to-49-year-olds.

In cable, USA (2.7 million) was the top prime-time network, followed by Disney (2.2 million) and TBS (2 million).

Here's a look at the 10 most watched broadcast network prime-time shows for the week ended Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research:

  1. NBA Finals Game Five (Boston vs. Los Angeles), ABC, 17.4 million viewers
  2. NBA Finals Game Three (Boston vs. Los Angeles), ABC, 14.5 million viewers
  3. NBA Finals Game Four (Boston vs. Los Angeles), ABC, 13.8 million viewers
  4. Two and a Half Men, CBS, 10.7 million viewers
  5. NCIS, CBS, 10.2 million viewers
  6. CSI, CBS, 9.4 million viewers
  7. Million Dollar Password, CBS, 9.36 million viewers
  8. 48 Hours Mystery (Tuesday), CBS, 9.2 million viewers
  9. CSI: NY, CBS, 9.18 million viewers
  10. So You Think You Can Dance (Wednesday), Fox, 8.9 million viewers
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