Like its main subject, ESPN’s “The Last Dance” is quickly putting up the numbers of an all-time great.
The documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Bulls debuted Sunday night and pulled in record viewership, averaging 6.1 million viewers for the first two episodes — instantly becoming the most-watched documentary in ESPN history, the network said Monday.
The previous most-watched original content on ESPN was the 2012 30 for 30 documentary on Bo Jackson, “You Don’t Know Bo,” which averaged 3.6 million viewers.
The premiere episodes were unsurprisingly the most-watched telecasts among adults 18-34 and 18-49 across broadcast and cable networks since all leagues suspended their seasons in March. It was also the most-watched telecast on ESPN since LSU beat Clemson in the CFP national championship in January.
The top five markets for viewership were Chicago (12.1 rating), Raleigh-Durham (6.5), Norfolk (4.9), Charlotte (4.7) and Greensboro (4.7). More Chicagoans watched Jordan live than in retrospect — Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Jazz averaged a 52.1 rating in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune — but the numbers for Sunday’s much-anticipated debut episodes were big nonetheless.
The first episode, which set the stage for the 10-part series, averaged 6.3 million viewers and the second, which explored Scottie Pippen’s role in the dynasty and his source of tension in the 1997-98 season, averaged 5.8 million viewers. ESPN, which aired unfiltered interviews — the ESPN2 stream bleeped out swears — averaged 5.3 million viewers over the two episodes.
Episodes 3 and 4 are set for next Sunday, beginning at 9 p.m. on ESPN.