Basketball: Michael Jordan 'Last Dance' documentary breaks records in US

Michael Jordan.
Michael Jordan. Photo credit: Getty

The opening episodes of ESPN's much-anticipated 10-part series on NBA legend Michael Jordan were the most-watched documentary programmes in the network's history.

Nielsen data showed the first two hours of the Last Dance series, airing on Monday (NZ time), averaged 6.1 million viewers in the United States.

The previous record holder - You Don't Know Bo, about baseball and football star Bo Jackson - was watched by 3.6 million viewers in 2012. The audience counts TV viewers only and does not include streaming platforms.

ESPN simulcast The Last Dance over two channels, with one version on ESPN 2 presented without the vulgarities used in the candid interviews with Jordan and other participants.

Netflix Australia & New Zealand purchased the rights to the series for the Oceania region.

On Sunday, The Last Dance was the top-trending topic on Twitter and, at one point, 25 of the 30 trending topics were related to the show. Nearly every interview subject who appeared in the first two hours - including former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas - were trending.

The Last Dance uses never-before-seen footage shot by a camera crew embedded with the Chicago Bulls for the 1997/98 NBA championship season - the sixth and final of the team's stunning 1990s run - to the tell story of Jordan's extraordinary career.

The highly-touted project was scheduled to air in June, but with nearly every live sporting event wiped out by COVID-19 shutdown rules, ESPN moved up the launch date. The network has treated the series as if it were a live event, with discussions of the film on its editions of SportsCenter.

The Last Dance ranks as the most-watched telecast among adults ages 18-34 and 18-49, since sports halted across broadcast and cable networks last month.

But ratings were still well below a typical ESPN Monday Night Football game, which averaged more than 12 million viewers a game this year, or an NBA playoff game, which can draw audiences of more than 10 million on ESPN.