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Cablers gain as nets falter

'Monk' answers USA's primetime prayers

Powered by sky-high ratings for the third-season premiere of “Monk” and repeats of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” USA leapt a whopping 32% in total viewers (1.1 national rating) to claim the No. 1 spot in primetime among basic-cable networks for the month of January.

The first two episodes of “Monk” made off with its highest tallies to date — 5.9 million and 5.6 million viewers, respectively – while “SVU,” running every night on the cabler, averaged 2.8 million viewers per episode.

“‘Monk’ is a triumph not only for USA but a victory for basic cable,” said Tim Brooks, senior VP research at Lifetime. “To come back with a third season at these numbers goes against the idea that it’s difficult to get original series to work on cable. It’s certainly not the case with this show.”

Also for the first time ever, cable outperformed broadcasters in January, grabbing a larger aggregate share of audiences (50 vs. 46) and household rating (31.4 vs. 29.0).

Feat resulted from several strong basic-cable premieres.

MTV bowed the second season of “Newlyweds” to 4.7 million viewers, topping the 18-49, 18-34 and teen demos for the month. Frosh skein “‘Til Death Do Us Part” and episodes of the latest edition of “Real World” were also among the month’s top basic-cable programs.

Discovery Channel also parlayed big audiences for its second season of “American Chopper” into a 38% year-to-year increase among viewers 18-49.

And Sci Fi Channel was up by double digits in key demos, fueled by the success of the premieres of the original series “Stargate SG-1” and the two-hour “Dragon Storm,” the channel’s most-watched original movie.

Lifetime delivered the month’s most-watched original telepic, “Gracie’s Choice,” which drew 4.21 million total viewers.

In total day, Nickelodeon led the pack with a 46% lead over second-place TNT. Kids cabler averaged 1.8 million viewers for the month.

Once again, winners far exceeded losers for the month in primetime. Among January’s big primetime gainers: SoapNet (up 69% in total auds), Hallmark Channel (up 58%), Bravo (up 53%), USA (up 32%), Lifetime Movie Network (up 30%) and Sci Fi (up 26%).

Also ESPN (up 26%), History Channel and AMC (both up 25%), ABC Family (up 24%), Discovery Channel (up 23%) and GSN (up 22%).

By contrast, five networks fell off in the primetime Nielsens for the month, also in order of overall ranking: Animal Planet (down 14% in total auds), TV Land (down 11%), Court TV (down 9%), Lifetime (down 7%) and A&E (down 6%).

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