'Jersey Shore' and 'Pawn Stars' among big hits

USA remained primetime’s top cable dog in the 2010-11 television season, but the biggest gains were made by MTV and History.

A look at the 52-week season that ended Sept. 18 shows that MTV grew by a sizable 34% year to year in adults 18-49 (to 776,000 viewers) and by 35% in adults 18-34, where it vaulted from fourth to first place, according to Nielsen. Its average primetime audience of 606,000 in the demo was even larger than struggling broadcaster CW (550,000), which was a non-factor in the summer when MTV dominated.

While MTV made some strides in the scripted arena with “Teen Wolf,” most of its damage was done by the unscripted likes of “Jersey Shore,” easily cable’s top-rated entertainment series in adults 18-49. Also, “Teen Mom” continues to shine in its shadows, standing as the No. 2 cable series in 18-34.

History, the network that was once known for its historical series and specials, had a great year with unscripted series “Pawn Stars,” “Ice Road Truckers” and “Ax Men.”

It was up 32% in 18-49 (to 906,000 viewers), rising to fourth from seventh place a year ago.

Overall for the television year, USA led in total viewers as well as adults 18-49 (1.27 million) and 25-54 (1.35 million). While USA was down a smidge in these demos, No. 2 ESPN and No. 3 TNT joined History in postings gains, while a declining TBS ran fifth.

Fox News Channel once again dominated among the news networks, with its average aud of 1.88 million more than MSNBC (788,000) and CNN (675,000) combined. But the gap closed some from last year, with FNC down in both total viewers and demos while the other grew.

While cable’s most popular networks have been rising in recent years while the Big Four broadcasters generally have been on the decline, a healthy gap remains.

For the 2010-11 season, most-watched network CBS (9.99 million viewers) drew more than three times the average aud of No. 1 cabler USA (3.28 million). And even fourth-place NBC (6.78 million) still drew twice as big a crowd as its cable cousin.

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