Cable’s in control

B'cast webs lose ground despite reality bows

The broadcast nets bowed such promising series as “Hit Me Baby One More Time” on NBC and “Dancing With the Stars” on ABC last week, but they’ll need to turn up the heat a few notches if they want to avoid losing more ground to cable this summer.

In the first full week of the unofficial 14-week summer sesh, the six broadcasters combined for just 34% of the primetime audience among adults 18-49, down from 36% in the same week a year ago, according to Nielsen. Dropoff was even steeper in adults 18-34, where the nets’ 31 share was down from a 37 last year.

No cable program ranked among the top 30 for the week in adults 18-49, but solid turnouts for the NBA Playoffs on TNT and firstrun series like “The 4400” on USA — which opened its second season well Sunday — and “The Shield” on FX helped ad-supported cable as a group snatch viewers away from the broadcasters.

As might be expected in a week when the broadcasters commanded just one-third of the 18-49 pie, it was a tight race for the lead. NBC, which finished the broadcast season in fourth, moved to the top spot for the first time since January with a 2.4 rating/7 share, with Fox (2.3/7), ABC (2.3/7) and CBS (2.2/7) also at a 7 share and within two-ticks of each other in rating.

TNT, boosted by four games of the NBA Playoffs, placed fifth for the week in 18-49 (1.3/4) — ahead of the WB (1.0/3) and UPN (0.9/3), which tied with cablers USA and TBS for seventh.

CBS edged past NBC to win the week in adults 25-54 (2.9/8) and also led in total viewers (8.4 million), while Fox led easily in persons 12-34 (2.2/8).

Frame’s top telecast in 18-49 was NBC’s retro music competish “Hit Me Baby One More Time” (4.7/13 in 18-49, 8.9 million viewers overall). ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” was not too far behind (4.3/12, 13.48m).

“Hit Me Baby” became the top-rated summer unscripted series premiere on any net since Fox’s “American Juniors” in June 2003, while “Dancing” logged the largest overall aud for a new unscripted summer skein since “Survivor” on CBS in May 2000.

Another unscripted show, Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” (3.2/8 in 18-49, 6.80m), had a nice bow and then built on its perf in week two (see below). And then there was the WB’s “Beauty and the Geek,” which opened nicely on Wednesday (1.6/5 in 18-49, 3.17m).

Also performing well in firstrun last week was USA’s “The 4400” on Sunday (2.0/6 in 18-49, 5.25m), which stands as the top-rated scripted telecast on basic cable this year. Although not as strong as its boffo series bow last July (2.8/8 in 18-49, 7.41m), Sunday’s perf repped the show’s best scores since that premiere.

News wasn’t as good for a pair of HBO premieres on Sunday: the series bow of Lisa Kudrow vehicle “The Comeback” (0.8/2 in 18-49, 1.51m) and season two of “Entourage” (0.9/2, 1.59m). As is always the case with HBO, though, premiere perf is not key since each show is available to subscribers at numerous other times.

Also, the first installment of the heavily marketed four-part Discovery Channel spec “Greatest America” drew just 949,000 total viewers Sunday.

Among repeats, CBS ruled with its three editions of “CSI,” as the Thursday original ranked as the top scripted program of the week in 18-49 (4.1/11, tied with Monday’s “CSI: Miami”) and total viewers (14.2 million). CBS also had the week’s No. 1 comedy in “Two and a Half Men” (3.5/9 in 18-49, 12.08m).

Holding the net back for the week was a soft showing by Sunday’s “Tony Awards” (1.4/4 in 18-49, 6.50m).

NBC rocked Wednesday with its “Eagles Farewell Tour” spec (3.1/9 in 18-49, 8.41m) and Friday with a slot-leading two-hour “Dateline” (2.0/7, 7.53m). It was also solid, but down vs. last year, with Monday’s “Miss Universe Pageant” (3.2/8, 9.19m).

Fox did well Sunday with an original “Family Guy” (3.7/10 in 18-49, 7.35m) and was OK at 9:30 with “American Dad” (3.0/8, 6.09m), while ABC’s firstrun highlights included a slot victory Friday for “20/20” (2.6/8 in 18-49, 8.13m).

* * *

On Monday of the current week, TNT’s coverage of Game 7 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals between the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat generated a strong 3.9/11 in 18-49 and 9.15 million viewers overall, ranking as the night’s top show in 18-49 as well as 18-34 (4.2/13) and all male demos — as well as the top-rated playoff game this season on either cable or broadcast.

Elsewhere, Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” heated up in its second outing (3.5/9 in 18-49, 6.98m), finishing in a virtual 18-49 tie with a pair of “Two and a Half Men” repeats on CBS. In all, the Eye aired five segs of “Men,” winning the night in total viewers.

News wasn’t as good for ABC unscripted series “The Scholar” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 4.79m), which ran fourth among the broadcast webs in the 8 o’clock hour.

Over at HBO, the season premiere of “Six Feet Under” averaged 2.62 million viewers in its initial airing.

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