Cable scores via ‘Sex,’ football

ESPN wins first-place primetime finish in total viewers

NEW YORK — “Sex” and football guided the cable universe to a stellar opening week in 2004.

ESPN parlayed its coverage of a batch of college bowl games into a first-place primetime finish in total viewers among ad-supported cable networks for the kickoff week of the new year.

The highest-visibility entertainment show of the week on cable, the first episode of the final eight half-hours of HBO’s “Sex & the City,” racked up a total viewership of 6.4 million on Jan. 4.

That number beat every other show in cable for the week, including the highest-rated bowl games on ESPN (Holiday Bowl, Outback, Peach, Alamo and Independence).

But it’s impossible to compare an HBO rating in 2004 cleanly with numbers from 2003 or earlier years: Nielsen has upgraded its technology as of Jan. 1 to record HBO only, and not, as previously, HBO plus all of the multiplex channels attached to it.

The premiere of the new season of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” immediately following “Sex” lost almost half of its lead-in audience. But “Curb” still attracted 3.3 million total viewers, which put it ahead of all other entertainment shows on cable except for theatrical “Wild Wild West” on TBS (3.8 million on Jan. 4), an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” on USA (3.57 million on Jan. 3) and an episode of “Law & Order” on TNT (3.46 million on Dec. 30).

ESPN won the primetime week (Dec. 29-Jan. 4) not only in total viewers but among adults 18-49 and adults 25-54.

TBS won the adults 18-34 category and was second to ESPN in 18-49 and 25-54.

The USA network came in second in total viewers, and third among adults 18-49 and adults 25-54.

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