Industry observers are calling it a cable watershed: Episodes of five different scripted series, slotted on three different networks, finished among the top-20 most-watched programs of the week in cable.
“That’s never happened before,” said Tim Brooks, senior VP of research for Lifetime.
USA Network scheduled the three that chalked up the biggest audiences among scripted shows for the week (July 28-Aug. 3): “Peacemakers,” the Western with Tom Berenger, came in third over all (5.2 million total viewers); “Monk” finished fourth (4.7 million) and “The Dead Zone” 13th (3.4 million). FX’s “Nip/Tuck” averaged 3.34 million viewers (good for 17th) and Lifetime’s “1-800-Missing,” which like “Peacemakers” was making its TV debut, averaged 3.3 million (19th).
The three series episodes propelled USA into a rare first-place finish among basic-cable networks in primetime for the week, a humongous 31% above the network’s average for the same period in 2002. USA also got a big lift from the premiere of the Steven Seagal movie “The Foreigner” (2003), a Screen Gems picture that bypassed U.S. theaters and went directly to cable.
TNT finished second in total viewers in primetime for the week but edged out USA among adults 18-49. Lifetime finished third in both categories. Among adults 25 to 54, USA took first, followed by TNT and Lifetime.
Brooks said one of the reasons more people are gravitating to cable this summer is that “too much of the reality programming on the broadcast networks is not working. Not one of these reality shows has broken out as a hit. Viewers are getting tired of watching a van full of young guys boasting about how they’re going to seduce a woman who’s the center of attention.”
Even in the reality genre, Brooks said the new show drawing the most buzz premiered on cable: “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” which drew 2.75-million primetime viewers to Bravo last week. As a result, Bravo shot up by a staggering 102% in the overall primetime ratings for the week compared to the same period last year.