Oprah, George score A&E’s best week ever

Primetime victory signals hot winter for cable

A biography of Oprah Winfrey has attracted the highest ratings in A&E history and, combined with last week’s strong Nielsens for “The Crossing,” has guided the ad-supported cable service to its top-rated primetime week ever.

With these latest A&E successes, it’s shaping up to be a hot winter for cable. The record Oprah numbers came the same night HBO was earning some of its most muscular ratings ever with the second-season premiere of “The Sopranos” and two nights before USA Network earned its highest cablepic rating in nearly two years with “The Mary Kay Letourneau Story” (Daily Variety, Jan. 20).

Sunday’s 8-9 p.m. cablecast “Oprah Winfrey: Heart of the Matter” earned a 6.4 households rating in the A&E universe (77% of the country’s TV homes) with its East Coast and West Coast primetime feeds and averaged 4.8 million households — both A&E records.

The service’s previous highest rating came in 1996 with the premiere of cablepic “Pride and Prejudice” (5.9 in A&E homes, combining East and West primetime feeds). The previous highest-rated “Biography” was the 1998 look at Ozzie and Harriet Nelson (4.8 in A&E homes, combining primetime feeds).

The 6.4 for “Oprah,” combined with a 5.6 earned Jan. 10 by George Washington cablepic “The Crossing,” carried A&E to a primetime average 2.1 rating for the Jan. 10-16 week, the service’s highest weeklong average ever.