ESPN scores with football

Sunday NFL helps cabler tackle first in primetime

NEW YORK — Propelled by the usual powerhouse ratings of its exclusive Sunday night National Football League games, ESPN finished first among all ad-supported cable nets in primetime in October.

The 2.3 average primetime rating in cable homes that ESPN chalked up was 5% higher than for the same period in 1998 and put the network comfortably ahead of No. 2 USA, which averaged a 2.1. A year ago, ESPN and USA tied for first place in primetime with a 2.2. USA’s Monday night World Wrestling Federation body-slams continued to dominate competitors in cable wrestling, TBS and TNT. Six of the top 10 highest-rated programs for the month were Monday night USA grappler shows.

TBS, energized by the huge numbers racked up by two hit theatrical movies, “Pretty Woman” and “Michael,” wound up in third place in primetime for the month, averaging a 2.0 rating in cable homes, 11% higher than last October’s 1.8.

The rest of the top 10 cable networks in primetime are Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite (a 1.9 rating in cable homes, down 5% from a year ago), Lifetime (1.7, up 13%), Cartoon Network (1.7, up 13%), TNT (a 1.5, down 29%), A&E (a 1.3, down 7%), Discovery Channel (a 1.2, unchanged) and Learning Channel (1.0, up 11%).

In noteworthy primetime gains farther down the rankings, MTV shot up by 29% year to year to a 0.9 rating (tied for 11th place). History Channel (0.8) and FX (also 0.8) both climbed by 14%. Court TV, catapulted by reruns of “Homicide” and “Cops,” soared by 400%, from a 0.1 rating in cable homes to a 0.5. Bravo jumped by 50% to a 0.3 rating.

Among the primetime decliners October to October, TNN: The Nashville Network skidded by 20% (from 1.0 to 0.8). WGN dipped 11% (0.9 to 0.8), Comedy Central by 13% (0.8 to 0.7) and TV Land by 14% (0.7 to 0.6).