Showtime, Lifetime series building audiences

The season finale of “Shameless” Sunday gave Showtime its highest-rated final episode of a freshman series in a decade.

Lifetime’s “Army Wives” also set a ratings benchmark Sunday, earning its top audience ever overall and among adults and women 18-and-over.

“Shameless” drew 1.2 million viewers for its initial airing Sunday — 18% above its season premiere — and 1.5 million including repeat viewing. The last freshman series finale to do better was “Queer as Folk” in 2001.

For the season, including on-demand and replay viewing, “Shameless” has averaged 3.7 million viewers, putting it third on Showtime behind “Dexter” and “Weeds.”

“Californication,” which also had its season finale Sunday, picked up 547,000 viewers for its initial airing and 1.1 million overall.

Meanwhile, “Army Wives” boasted 4.8 million total viewers and 2.2 million among adults 18-49, reinforcing its status as basic cable’s most-watched drama to date for 2011 in the demo.

Year-to-year, “Army Wives” has shown ratings gains of more than 25% in total viewers, with men increasingly taking notice of the show.

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