‘True Blood’ has best-ever ratings

Cable shows, including 'Runway,' top TV frame

While the return of pro football gave Fox a nice boost last week, the top ratings stories in the frame were on cable, including a big bow for “Project Runway” on Lifetime and another high for HBO’s “True Blood.”

It wasn’t all up arrows for cable’s high-profile skeins, though, as AMC’s “Mad Men” took a tumble following its record numbers kicking off its third season one week earlier. Still, the acclaimed drama remains well ahead of last year’s pace.

Highlight of the week, though, was Lifetime’s successful launch of “Project Runway,” the former Bravo series that hadn’t aired for 10 months. Its network preem Thursday averaged a 1.8 rating/6 share in adults 18-49 and 4.23 million viewers overall, according to Nielsen — making it both the show’s and the network’s highest-rated preem to date (Daily Variety, Aug. 24).

Lifetime finished fifth for the week among cable nets in adults 18-49, second in women 18-49 (behind USA) and in a virtual tie with TBS for the lead among women 18-34.

Over at HBO, “True Blood” surged more than 20% week to week to set series records (2.8/8 in 18-49, 5.33 million viewers overall). In the demo, the vampire skein ranked third among all primetime programs for the week.

The premiere telecast was the first HBO series episode to top 5 million viewers since the finale of “The Sopranos” drew 11.9 million in June 2007. And excluding “Sopranos,” it’s the largest premiere-night audience for an HBO series since 5.4 million tuned in for the fourth episode of “Deadwood” (which aired behind “Sopranos”) in April 2004.

“True Blood” is opening up some distance on skedmates “Hung” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 3.28m) and “Entourage” (1.9/5 in 18-49, 3.18m), although they were both up as well.

As for “Mad Men,” its 1.91 million viewers repped a 31% drop from its third-season preem (2.77 million), but this is still the show’s third-largest aud to date (the season-two premiere also fared better, 2.06 million). And last season saw a bigger 35% drop between the first and second segs.

Overall for the week of Aug. 17-23, Fox prevailed among adults 18-49 with a 2.0 rating/6 share, followed by CBS and NBC (both 1.5/5), ABC (1.2/4), Univision (1.1/3) and cablers USA and ESPN (both 1.0/3).

Fox also won narrowly among adults 25-54 (2.1/6 to 2.0/6 for CBS), while the Eye won as usual in total viewers (5.8 million to 5.6 million for runner-up NBC).

Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” was the week’s No. 1 program in adults 18-49 (3.5/12) — hitting a summer high — and the net also got a big boost from a pair of NFL preseason games, which dominated their respective nights: Thursday’s Philadelphia-Indianapolis contest (2.4/8, 6.56m) and Friday’s Tennessee-Dallas game (2.3/8, 6.66m).

CBS was paced by Tuesday’s “Big Brother” (3.0/9 in 18-49, 7.98m), the No. 3 show of the week. Featuring the removal of a controversial contestant who broke “Big Brother” rules, Tuesday’s seg logged the franchise’s highest 18-49 score since the eighth-season finale in September 2007.

“America’s Got Talent” led the way as usual for NBC, but Tuesday’s performance show was on the low side (3.1/9 in 18-49, 11.88m) — ranking No. 2 for the week in 18-49 but still No. 1 in total viewers.

The Peacock closed strong with Sunday’s “Miss Universe Pageant” (2.1/6, 5.99m), which dominated the night’s 10 o’clock hour.

ABC was shut out of the week’s top 20, but “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” did a decent job of keeping the lights on in the 8 o’clock hour, averaging a 1.4/4 in 18-49 and 6.9 million viewers overall during its five nights. Also hanging in there is Sunday’s “Shark Tank” (1.8/5, 5.45m), while “Shaq Vs.” was credible but nothing special opposite tough reality competish on Tuesday.

USA stayed on top in cable thanks mostly to Thursday’s “Royal Pains” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 5.32m), which was the top cable show in its tough time period (opposite “Project Runway”) in both adults 25-54 (2.0/6) and total viewers.

Other cable series standouts included USA’s “WWE Raw” (1.8/5 in 18-49, 5.16 at 9 p.m. and 2.1/6, 5.90 at 10 p.m.); “The Closer” (1.6/4, 7.31m) and first-season finale of “Hawthorne” (1.2/3, 3.52m) on TNT; “Intervention” (1.2/3, 2.12m) and the strong-starting “Hoarders” (1.4/4, 2.53m) on A&E; and Syfy’s “Ghost Hunters” (1.2/4, 2.54m) and “Warehouse 13” (1.0/3, 3.27m).

At ABC Family, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” was on the rise (1.3/4 in 18-49, 3.30m), standing as television’s No. 1 program for the week in females 12-34 (3.7/13).

And heading the other way was “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami” on E! (1.1/3, 2.03m), which declined from its preem but was still easily the net’s top show of the week.

Elsewhere, promotion during “Runway” may have boosted Lifetime’s new Sunday skein “Drop Dead Diva” (1.0/3, 2.90m), which hit a high in women 18-49 (1.5/4).

And Bravo may have been overshadowed by the launch of former series “Project Runway” on Lifetime, but it held up well. Boosted by “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters,” Bravo logged its top-rated week on record among both adults 18-49 (616.000) and total viewers (952,000).

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