Loss of 'Raw' contributes to drop

NEW YORK — Lifetime was the top-rated cabler in January primetime while perennial winner USA slipped to No. 2, according to monthly Nielsens.

For Lifetime, the January average rating of 2.1 represented the first time in the network’s history that it finished first in primetime for an entire month, driven by its nightly inventory of TV movie reruns and its trio of original Sunday series: “Strong Medicine,” “The Division” and “Any Day Now.”

By contrast, USA’s 1.9 primetime rating, although good for a second-place tie with TNT, plunged the network into a 30% decline from the same period in 2000, a dropoff attributed, at least in part, to the loss of the two-hour weekly “Monday Night Raw” extravaganza produced by the World Wrestling Federation.

Male call

USA was also harvesting bigger average household ratings a year ago every night at 8 with “Walker, Texas Ranger” reruns, now replaced by “Nash Bridges.” The plus for “Nash Bridges” is that it’s pulling a slightly younger male viewership, which allows the network to sell the 30-second spots at a higher rate.

USA’s 30% downturn was the second-biggest January-to-January decrease among all 41 cable nets monitored by Turner Entertainment Research. ESPN wound up with the worst numbers, skidding from a 1.6 rating to a 1.0 this January, a 36% slide.

In addition to Lifetime, other networks that chalked up double-digit primetime gains in January include Cartoon Network (13%), TNN (50%), the Learning Channel (10%), the History Channel (11%), MTV (13%), FX (13%), Fox News Channel (60%), Court TV (17%), E! Entertainment TV (20%), the Game Show Network (20%), the Travel Channel (150%) and Odyssey (33%).

Networks weighed down by a double-digit drop include Sci Fi Channel (10%), WGN (25%), VH1 (17%) and the Weather Channel (25%).

‘Trail’ blazer

The cable industry is still buzzing over the record 9.6 rating in cable homes racked up by TNT’s Tom Selleck Western “Crossfire Trail” on Jan. 21. That number was a stunning 3.8 rating points greater than the second-highest-rated program for the month, an edition of “Monday Night Raw,” which now runs on TNN. Six of the top-10 cable programs for the week were editions of “Monday Night Raw.”

The other top 10 primetime shows on cable for January were USA’s showing of the Harrison Ford theatrical “Six Days Seven Nights” (a 4.7 rating in cable homes Jan. 2), the TNT original movie “The Pretender 2001″ (a 4.4, Jan. 22) and a “Rugrats” half-hour on Nickelodeon (4.4, Jan. 15).

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more