TNT takes victory lap

Hoops help cable net edge out USA

TNT squeaked by USA in total viewers and two key demos (adults 18-49 and 25-54) during the second quarter, one of the tightest quarterly primetime Nielsen battles in ad-supported cable history.

Propelling TNT to the win were a batch of NBA Playoff games and two episodes of detective series “The Closer.”

USA’s dominant series continued to be the two-hour Monday night World Wrestling Entertainment free-for-alls, plus new episodes of its hit series “The 4400.” USA edged out TNT in another important demo category, people 18-34.

But it was “Broken Trail,” an original 3½-hour Western movie, the first made-for commissioned by AMC, that proved the biggest Nielsen surprise of the quarter. “Trail” scored the second best household rating for an original scripted program in basic-cable history, beaten only by another Western made-for, “Crossfire Trail” (2001), a TNT movie with Tom Selleck.

For the big picture, basic cable as a category expanded its lead on the broadcast networks, gaining 0.7 share point while broadcast was losing 0.6 point from last year’s second quarter. And among people 18-49, ad-supported cable beat the broadcasters for the fourth straight second quarter.

USA may have lost the total-viewers race in primetime to TNT, but USA was up by 18% compared with its total viewers during the 2005 second quarter. By contrast, TNT was down 8%. Third-place ESPN climbed 27% from the second quarter of last year, and fourth-place TBS was flat.

But for the rest of the top 10, five were down in total viewers year to year, four by double digits. Fifth-place Cartoon Network slipped by 7%, followed by declines of 21% for Nick at Nite (sixth place), 10% for Lifetime (seventh), 10% for Fox News (eighth), and 18% for Spike TV (10th). Ninth-place FX rose by 7%.

From the 11th network down to the 63rd, the following channels gained by double digits in total primetime viewers in the second quarter (in order of their finish): Discovery Channel (up 14%), Comedy Central (up 15%), Hallmark Channel (up 37%), HGTV (up 16%), Learning Channel (up 17%) and ESPN2 (up 18%)

Also, Bravo (up 11%), E! Entertainment TV (up 11%), MSNBC (up 11%), Country Music TV (up 12%), National Geographic Channel (up 27%) and Soap Net (up 26%).

Also, OLN (up 75%), Speed (up 10%), Toon Disney (up 12%), Oxygen (up 10%), WE: Women’s Entertainment (up 15%) and CNBC (up 23%).

Also, Noggin (up 10%), Biography Channel (up 69%), ESPN Classic (up 65%), BBC America (up 24%), ESPN News (up 27%) and Fuse (up 15%).

Only two networks situated between 11th and 63rd dropped off by double digits in primetime for the second quarter: Sci Fi Channel, off by 11% in 19th place, and Discovery Health, also down 11%, in 46th place.

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