Comedy Central series stays atop cable ratings

NEW YORK — The foul-mouthed third-graders of “South Park” have made TV history, clocking in as the highest-rated show in all of cable for the second week in a row.

That’s the first time an original, scripted adult series has ever accomplished that feat. It scored a 6.1 Nielsen rating in cable households for its 10 p.m. timeslot on Wed., Feb. 11, a cable high for the week ended Feb. 15, after harvesting a 6.4 for its Wednesday showing the previous week (Feb. 2-8). (Comedy Central repeats the “South Park” episode later on Wednesday and twice on Saturday.)

“TV viewers are fed up with political correctness,” says Doug Herzog, president and CEO of Comedy Central. “The broadcast networks have lulled their audience into a sitcom coma. ‘South Park’ provides something different and fresh.”

Tim Brooks, senior VP of research for the USA Networks, says the huge audiences for “South Park” “are a clear indication that, for the first time, individual series on cable are going to start getting more viewers than some of the lower-rated series” on the primetime schedules of the broadcast networks.

USA’s firstrun action hour “La Femme Nikita,” for example, averaged a 2.0 rating for its first burst of original episodes last May, a number that grew to a 2.3 in its second burst in the fall and to a 2.6 rating average for the third burst last month, Brooks says.

Compared to “Nikita,” though, “South Park” is off the charts. Behind “South Park” last week, the 10 top-rated series encompassed four wrestling exhibitions (three on TNT and one on TBS) and five different half-hours of “Rugrats” scattered throughout the Nickelodeon schedule.

Herzog said Comedy Central, which owns “South Park,” has commissioned the two twentysomething creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, to produce 33 half-hours. The twelfth episode ran Feb. 18 and the 13th will play on Feb. 25, with the final 20 to be delivered over the next year, according to Herzog.

“We’ll definitely order more shows beyond the first 33,” he said, although possibly with new writers if Stone and Parker get lured away to more lucrative pastures.

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