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Alan Pergament: Is playoff hockey really more popular than basketball in WNY?

Most Western New Yorkers think of the area as a hockey town, not a basketball town.

That's one reason that sports station WGR devotes more time to talking about the Stanley Cup playoffs than the National Basketball Association playoffs.

But here's a first-round upset.

In a head-to-head match-up April 23, a first-round NBA game between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder had a higher rating in Buffalo than a first-round NHL game between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators.

The score: NBA 2.8 on WKBW (Channel 7), the NHL 2.6 on WGRZ-TV (Channel 7).

And it was only that close because Ottawa was pushed to overtime past 6 p.m. before eliminating the Bruins. The rating hit a 5.7 in overtime, most likely because many viewers were expecting to see the start of Channel 2's news.

One of the likely reasons for the TV upset is that the Houston-OKC game featured the two top candidates for the NBA's most valuable player award -- the Rockets' James Harden and the Thunder's Russell Westbrook. The game went down to the wire before Houston won.

The NHL did have the top-rated playoff game here over the weekend, a 4.2 rating for New York Rangers' elimination of the Montreal Canadiens on April 22 carried by NBC. However, prime-time games should get higher ratings than daytime games because more viewers are in front of their sets at night.

On Saturday afternoon, St. Louis' elimination of Minnesota had a 2.3 rating on Channel 2 for a game that started at 3 p.m. and didn't finish until 6:45 p.m. when viewers joined expecting to see local and national news. The final game of Cleveland's four-game sweep led by LeBron James over Indiana had almost the same rating, a 2.2 on Channel 7, even though it started at 1 p.m., when fewer viewers are watching television.

The NHL generally doesn't do as good a job showcasing its stars as the NBA.

Which brings me to what I heard on WGR Monday morning: Co-hosts Howard Simon and Jeremy White were speculating about the ideal match-up for the Stanley Cup Final. The idea of a Pittsburgh-Edmonton final got some support since it would feature two of the league's top stars -- the Penguins' veteran star Sidney Crosby and the Oilers' young superstar Connor McDavid.

However, I can't imagine NBC would be as thrilled by that final as hockey fans because the broadcast network gets most of its viewership from the markets of participating teams and the Edmonton market in Canada isn't rated in the United States.

Some people don't realize the NHL doesn't have a large national following and – with apologies to the late Don Rickles -- most Americans wouldn't know the exciting McDavid from a hockey puck. He would hardly be a ratings magnet outside of regular hockey fans.

NBC already has lost the teams in the large hockey markets of Chicago, Boston and Minnesota -- and Detroit and Buffalo didn't even make the playoffs. It doesn't need a Canadian team in the final.

The nightmare scenario for NBC would be an Ottawa-Edmonton final.

However, CBC – which lost historic franchises Montreal and Toronto in the first round -- would be happy since any final featuring a Canadian team would help its ratings.

NBC isn't carrying any of Edmonton's first four second-round games, dishing them over to cable's lower-rated NBCSN.

TV market-wise, NBC probably would be most happy with a New York-Anaheim final. However, it probably would be OK with any final that doesn't include Ottawa and could live with Edmonton to showcase McDavid even if it wouldn't help ratings.

The first NBC second-round game is between the Rangers and Senators at 3 p.m. Saturday. The prime-time game that night on NBC is between Pittsburgh and Washington, which showcases Crosby and the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin.

At 3 p.m. April 30, NBC is featuring the game between St. Louis and Nashville. The Edmonton-Anaheim game at 7 p.m. is on NBCSN.

If you've watched any postseason hockey games, you most likely have run into a promo about the new comedy that premieres at 9 p.m. April 25 on NBC, "Great News." Tina Fey ("30 Rock") is one of the producers. The series has been hanging around NBC long enough for 10 episodes to be available to critics for preview.

I only watched the pilot and was mildly amused about a show that revolves around a childish news anchor (played by John Michael Higgins). He only can be controlled by the mother (Andrea Martin of "SCTV" long ago) of one of the show's young, ambitious producers (Briga Heelan, most recently of Netflix's "Love").

Mom is hired as an intern, which initially becomes a nightmare scenario for a daughter who already is tired by her overprotective mother's frequent calls, constant meddling and ridiculing of her father. Martin steals the pilot, which drops several celebrity names for laughs (ABC anchor David Muir gets a shot early) and has enough funny moments to bring you back for the second episode that follows at 9:30 p.m. But I wouldn't call it great.



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