Some key measures up slightly this year

The first half of summer has been a case of good news/bad news for the broadcast nets: While their collective ratings still hover near historic lows, they are up slightly in some key measures compared with last year.

Thanks to more original programming — including some firstrun dramas and new hits led by ABC’s “Wipeout” — the Big Four are showing a pulse during their traditional “gone fishing” stretch. And with the Summer Olympics still ahead on NBC, the major nets have a good chance of finishing the summer season up vs. the previous year for the first time in years.

To be sure, the cable networks as a group are dominating this summer, but at least the broadcasters can point to a little momentum on the heels of their most disappointing and lowest-rated regular season ever.

For the May 26-July 13 period (the first seven weeks of the unofficial 14-week summer season), the Big Four are averaging a combined 24.9 million viewers in primetime, according to Nielsen — a 5% improvement over the 23.6 million they’d attracted at this point a year ago. Basic cable, meanwhile, is up 2% (to 51.1 million from 50.0 million).

Both broadcast and cable are showing roughly similar demo gains year to year. In adults 18-49, cable is up 1%, while the Big Four are flat. In adults 25-54, cable is up 2%, while the Big Four are up by 3%. On the younger end, the Big Four are up 3% in adults 18-34 while cable is down 1%.

The writers strike may have contributed to cable’s somewhat softer summer start, as some skeins — including biggies “The Closer” on TNT and “Monk” on USA — are starting later than usual this summer.

For the broadcast nets, a strong showing by the NBA Finals on ABC helped get things off to a good start, but the Alphabet also has been up vs. the corresponding week a year ago in every frame since basketball ended.

Wacky obstacle course skein “Wipeout” is the summer’s only bona fide new hit. ABC also did well with the first summer run of “The Bachelorette.” ABC, which has moved up to second place in 18-49 this summer from fourth last year, also has a couple of other potential strong reality cards to play in “High School Musical: Get in the Picture” and “Wanna Bet,” which bow within the next week.

Fox has a good formula for summer, adding no new series but instead relying on nonscripted midweek stalwarts like “Hell’s Kitchen” and “So You Think You Can Dance” and getting good mileage out of shows that repeat well (led by “House” and “Family Guy”).

NBC has been paced by “America’s Got Talent” and the promising new “Baby Borrowers,” but it has fizzled with Monday’s combo of “American Gladiators” and “Nashville Star.”

CBS looks the worst in year-to-year comparisons (down 11% in 18-49 and 8% in 25-54), but it just launched the bulk of its firstrun fare last week. And while original drama “Swingtown” isn’t a hit, it’s performing better than many of the net’s repeat crime dramas.

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Looking at the week ended Sunday, Fox prevailed once again in the 18-49 demo (2.1 rating/7 share), followed by ABC (1.8/6), NBC (1.7/5), CBS (1.6/5), Univision (1.4/5). USA (0.9/2) and TBS (0.8/2) led the cablers.

Fox also led in adults 25-54 (2.3/7) and persons 12-34 (1.9/7), while CBS won rather easily in total viewers (6.9 million).

Fox has won six of seven summer weeks in 18-49, while CBS has captured six of seven in total viewers despite a sluggish demo perf.

The season finale of Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” (4.2/12, 8.91m) and a best-yet score for ABC’s new hit “Wipeout” (4.0/13, 10.60m) were the week’s top draws in 18-49. ABC also was strong with its concluding night of “The Bachelorette,” as both the “After the Rose” spec (3.7/10, 9.99m) and the two-hour finale itself (3.4/10, 9.53m) finished in the top five in 18-49.

CBS saw a solid but unspectacular start for its three summer premieres, each of which led their timeslots.

“Greatest American Dog” (2.1/8 in 18-49, 9.63m) topped Thursday’s tame 8 o’clock hour but was merely in line with last summer’s bow of “Pirate Master”; “Big Brother” (2.1/7, 6.13m) was down vs. recent openers but looked solid for a Sunday episode; and “Flashpoint” (1.9/6, 8.13m) was Friday’s top program, building on its lead-in from “Numbers” (1.4/5, 6.67m).

A “Dog” side note for animal lovers: The show overindexed in households with dog owners, according to a special report Nielsen ordered for CBS. Some 55% of the show’s aud were viewers who owned a dog, while a recent National Pet Owners Survey reported that dog ownership is at 45% nationally.

USA led cable for the week in 18-49, 25-54 and total viewers, claiming the week’s top three scripted programs on cable among adults 18-49 with “Burn Notice” (1.8/6 in 18-49, 5.39m), “In Plain Sight” (1.6/5, 5.09m) and “Law & Order: CI” (1.5/4, 4.90m).

Other top cable programs among young adults included Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 3.46m), TNT’s final NASCAR race of the year (1.8/7, 5.13m for the Saturday event in Chicago) and Lifetime’s “Army Wives” (1.3/4, 3.55m).

ABC Family had some good news both for series “Secret Life of the American Teenager” (0.9/3, 2.81m) and original movie “Picture This” (1.2/3, 4.27m). Sunday’s “Picture” stood as the week’s No. 1 movie on all of television in 18-49, total viewers and other demos including women 18-34 (1.8/6), while “Teenager” held up well in its second week and edged out “Picture” as the week’s No. 1 scripted cable program in women 18-34 (1.9/6).

Elsewhere, VH1 scored Sunday with “I Love Money” (1.2/4 in 18-49, 2.30m) and “Brooke Knows Best” (1.0/3, 1.96m), which combined to make the net the top-rated cabler in 18-34 from 9 to 10:30 p.m. And Oxygen drew a net-record 580,000 for the week, boosted by original series “Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood” and the preem of theatrical “Rumor Has It.”

HBO’s opening installment of “Generation Kill” averaged 1 million viewers on Sunday. Well-reviewed seven-part miniseries about a Marine unit fighting in Iraq didn’t figure to be a ratings magnet.

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