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Sports, pols drive cable

ESPN scores rare full-month first-place sweep

NFL Football and Major League Baseball on ESPN and the presidential debates on Fox News drew more viewers to cable TV in October than did any other programming.

ESPN engineered a rare full-month sweep of first place in the four most-watched Nielsen categories: total viewers and adults 18-49, 18-34 and 25-54. The network racked up five of the top-10 individual programs for October. Four were Sunday-night National Football League games, led by the 49ers-Bears contest Oct. 31, with 8.63 million viewers (second place overall), and the Ravens-Redskins contest Oct. 10, with 8.43 million viewers (third overall). The fifth was the Twins-Yankees MLB playoff game Oct. 6.

Fox News scores

The other five programs in the top 10 for the month were Fox News’ coverage of the presidential debates, highlighted by the No. 1 program, the Sept. 30 faceoff, which delivered 9.56 million viewers.

Fox News scored 11 of the top 12 cable news shows. And — for the first time ever — Fox chalked up the top six programs, elbowing out CNN’s “Larry King Live,” which ended up in seventh place.

Fox News finished a close second to ESPN in total primetime viewers, averaging 2.4 million for the month, a humongous gain of 116% compared with October 2003. (First-place ESPN was down 11% from a year ago.)

USA takes silver

In adults 18-49, USA came in second in primetime to ESPN, trailed closely by third-place TBS. TNT was second to ESPN in 25-54, with USA a close third. Similarly, in 25-54, TNT was second and USA third.

The highest-rated scripted show for the month was the Oct. 5 episode of “Nip/Tuck” on FX, which pulled 5.2 million viewers to finish 14th overall.

The best-performing cable movie during October was the firstrun “Plain Truth” on Lifetime. It delivered 4.68 million viewers Oct. 4, 21st overall for the month.

Spike was the general-entertainment network that performed best year to year in primetime, shooting up 61% to finish in eighth place overall. Spike’s Monday-night World Wrestling Entertainment numbers are off, but its reruns of “CSI” are pulling hundreds of thousands of viewers to the network.

Newsies gain

Among the news networks, CNN averaged 1 million primetime viewers for the month, up 35%. MSNBC also saw strong growth, averaging 500,000 primetime viewers, up 94% from October 2003.

Fox News’ top six shows for the month were “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Hannity & Colmes,” “The Fox Report With Shepard Smith,” “On the Record With Greta Van Susteren,” “Special Report With Brit Hume” and “The Big Story With John Gibson.” All were up significantly in ratings over October 2003.

“On the Record” saw the most growth of all the Fox News shows, up 104% from the same frame last year. “Hannity & Colmes” wasn’t far behind, up 92%. “Big Story” was up 76%.

O’Reilly, whose numbers particularly shot up after a legal battle ensued with a former producer accusinghim of sexual harassment, saw his aud grow by 70%.

Show stoppers

Fox News’ morning show “Fox & Friends” (1 million viewers) beat out all other competitors in the 7-9 a.m. ET timeslot, including CNN’s “American Morning” (473,000), MSNBC’s “Imus in the Morning” (379,000), CNN Headline News (224,000) and CNBC’s “Squawk Box” (95,000, down 45%).

MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews” beat out CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees” last month (612,000 viewers vs. 596,000). CNN’s “American Morning” was down 9%. Net plugged the fact that its primetime lineup beat out CNN in year-to-year growth.

In regards to its daytime lineup, MSNBC also pointed out that “Imus” — whose radio show is simulcast on MSNBC — saw strong growth, up 89%.

CNN said it delivered its best month since the war in total viewers, with “Crossfire,” “Lou Dobbs Tonight” and “Paula Zahn Now” posting their highest viewership since the Iraq conflict. Also, Cooper’s show was up 43% in viewership over the same frame last year.

CNBC was down 34% in total day (121,000 viewers) and down 9% in primetime.

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