Network averages 3.1 million viewers

The Disney Channel made primetime history during the summer, averaging 3.1 million viewers — more than any other network in the history of cable.

The previous high was the 2.9 million average primetime viewers harvested by USA last summer and TNT in summer 2005. Disney’s “High School Musical 2″ earlier this month became the most-watched individual program in cable history (17.2 million viewers for its preem), but the network was loaded with high-octane performers including episodes of the “Hannah Montana” and “Suite Life of Zack & Cody” series and theatrical movies such as “Ella Enchanted” and “Spy Kids 3: Game Over.”

But Disney’s competitors point out that the network doesn’t accept 30-second spots, giving it a nice advantage over the networks that frequently interrupt their shows for commercials.

Among ad-supported cable networks, USA continued on top, not only in total viewers but in the key demos of adults 18-49, 25-54 and 18-34.

USA’s highest-rated series is World Wrestling’s two-hour “WWE Raw,” which appears to have recovered from the aftermath of the wrestler Chris Benoit’s June 24 murders of his wife and son and subsequent suicide. USA also delivered high ratings in the summer for its limited series “The Starter Wife,” new episodes of “Monk” and “Psych” as well as hot rookie series “Burn Notice.”

TNT was a solid second to USA in total viewers, adults 18-49 and 25-54, sparked by 10 original episodes of the most-watched scripted series in cable history, “The Closer.” Also performing pretty well for TNT has been Holly Hunter drama “Saving Grace,” which follows “Closer” on Monday night.

The top-10-rated networks during the summer (May 28 through Aug. 26) with the best year-to-year performances were eighth-place Discovery, which rose by 11%, and ninth-place A&E, which shot up by 18%.

The other cable networks in the top 60 that grew by double digits this summer, in order of their overall finish, are: Court TV (14th place; up 37%), History Channel (16th; up 11%), TLC (20th; up 20%), Bravo (29th; up 15%); MSNBC (32nd; up 44%) and CNN Headline News (35th; up 32%).

Also, Oxygen (40th; up 16%), CNBC (49th; up 40%), Nicktoons (50th; up 34%), Noggin (51st; up 30%), Style (52nd; up 61%), Discovery Science (53rd; up 18%), G4 (54th; up 17%), and Discovery Times (58th; up 102%).

By contrast, the networks that plunged by double digits in primetime over the summer are: Nick at Nite (10th; down 13%), AMC (19th; down 15%), Comedy Central (21st; down 13%), MTV (22nd, down 11%), TV Land (25th; down 13%) and Animal Planet (30th, down 12%).

Also, TV Guide Network (43rd; down 19%). Game Show Network (45th; down 29%), Discovery Health (46th; down 15%), Biography Channel (59th; down 15%) and ESPN Classic (63rd; down 26%).

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