Hits, miniseries lead way; ESPN, TBS also big gainers

A influx of male viewers has helped basic cable get off to a pretty good start this summer, even if no scripted series is setting the world on fire.

History, with its record-setting “Hatfields and McCoys” miniseries and potent unscripted skeins, is summer’s most-watched cabler so far and is on par with ESPN as the top net in adults 18-49 through Sunday. ESPN and TNT are also big gainers thanks to NBA Playoffs action that started later than usual this year, as is TBS, which is riding repeats of male-friendly laffer “The Big Bang Theory.”

Another net for which men make up a big chunk of the audience, A&E, is on the rise, while on the femme side, Lifetime is sitting pretty with nice demo gains according to Nielsen.

Top-20 networks losing notable ground year-to-year include USA, FX, Discovery, ABC Family and Comedy Central.

On the new-series front, TNT’s “Dallas” opened well but has since cooled off. The net was pleased enough with its perf after three weeks to renew it for a second season. The other early-summer headliner, FX’s “Anger Management,” bowed strongly last week.

Overall for the first five weeks of the summer season (Memorial Day through July 1), History is the primetime leader in total viewers (3.39 million, up 49% from last year), followed by USA (2.77m, down 21%), TNT (2.75m, up 17%), Disney Channel (2.66 million, even) and ESPN (2.62m, up 128%). The top 20 cable nets are averaging 1.65 million viewers, up slightly from last year (1.62m).

In adults 18-49, ESPN (1.34 million, up 186%) is followed by History (1.33m, up 30%), TNT (1.10m, up 17%), USA (1.08m, down 17%) and TBS (0.90m, up 21%).

The hoops action affected the early-summer numbers for some returning shows, and heavyweights “Burn Notice” on USA and “Falling Skies” on TNT are down in part due to opening up against the NBA playoffs this year.

Among series that have aired three times or more early this summer, the top draws in total viewers are TNT’s “Rizzoli and Isles” (6.55 million) and “Dallas” (6.47m) and History’s “Pawn Stars” (6.25m). In adults 18-49, “Pawn Stars” is on top (2.1 rating), followed by Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0″ (1.9) and USA’s “WWE Raw” (1.8). And among persons 12-34, leaders are ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” (2.3 rating), Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0″ (2.3) and MTV’s “Teen Mom” (2.2).

Looking at some of the networks, History made history on the opening days of the summer season with “Hatfields and McCoys,” whose finale peaked with 14.3 million viewers — the largest aud ever for an entertainment telecast on ad-supported cable. Net’s year-to-year summer spike of 30% in 18-49 can also be attributed to series like “Pawn Stars,” “Swamp People” and “American Pickers.”

It’s hard to gauge TNT this early in the summer as its numbers are greatly enhanced by the NBA Playoffs. Among series, “Falling Skies” hasn’t performed quite as well as its initial episodes from last season, while “Rizzoli and Isles” is down a bit but earns points for remaining potent even away from “The Closer.”

At USA, the net’s top 10 original scripted hours this summer are down 11% in both categories from last year, while “NCIS” repeats and “WWE Raw” are both down about 5%-7%. The cabler is seeing larger year-to-year drops because its original-series bench hasn’t been as deep this summer, as six series have aired originals compared to eight a year ago (including “In Plain Sight,” which wrapped its run in early May of this year).

AMC is down even though “Mad Men” was around for a couple of airings this year and saw the net’s most-watched two telecasts. “The Killing” was down noticeaby this year (1.65 million vs. 2.04 million a year ago), and the net’s themed events weren’t as strong as last year’s, which included “Lonesome Dove” weekend and “Rifleman” marathon.

FX’s declines can be attributed largely to weaker-performing theatricals.

Lifetime, once defined by its movies, is making slow but steady progress on the series front and continues to trend younger. The net, which clicked this summer with “The Client List” (which has ended its first season) and “Dance Moms,” moved up from 18th to 13th in adults 18-49 rankings, surpassing nets including BET and VH1.

In the second quarter of this year, the net’s primetime median age of 48 was its lowest in 12 years.

A&E gained 5% in 18-49 and 20% in total viewers, thanks to the hot “Storage Wars.” On the scripted side, Western “Longmire” has performed well on Sunday, paired with “The Glades.”

Discovery has seen top show “Deadliest Catch” drop off some, plus it hasn’t aired “American Chopper” as it did last summer. ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” has started to show its age, while newcomer “Bunheads” isn’t doing as well as last summer’s “Switched at Birth.”

A growing Fox News (1.83 million, up 7%) is drawing nearly triple the primetime aud of MSNBC (654,000, down 10%) and more than four times the audience for a flailing CNN (427,000, down 28%).

OWN is up 11% in total viewers this summer (to 306,000), ranking 44th among all basic cablers. Other smaller networks showing nice gains vs. last year include GSN, WGNA, H2, Bio, Spirit, HMC, G4, Reelz, NGWD, Hub and Destination America. Laggards include WE, SoapNet and Cloo.

Looking ahead, next week will see the kickoff of TNT’s swansong season of “The Closer,” paired with new Eric McCormack crime drama “Perception,” and the cabler will also bring back “Leverage.” Over at USA, “White Collar” and “Covert Affairs” return next week and “Political Animals” makes it bow.

Among other shows looking to launch before the Summer Olympics begin at the end of the month are TBS comedy “Sullivan & Son” and Syfy’s returning “Warehouse 13″ and “Alphas” on July 23. BBC America will wait until after the Games, on Aug. 19, to bow its first original scripted series, “Copper.”

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