Chappelle, choppers roll along; Spike suffers

Basic cable

WHAT WORKED: If 2004 proved anything, it’s that basic cable can sustain its hits.

The second cycle of “Nip/Tuck” reached series highs at FX, and “Monk” uncovered another standout season for USA. The latest season of Dave Chappelle’s satirical sketch hour won over auds and landed the comedian a landmark deal for two more seasons on Comedy Central.

Discovery Channel and MTV coasted to another year among the top 10 on the fumes of its existing car shows: “American Chopper” and “Monster Garage” franchises on Discovery; “Pimp My Ride” on MTV.

VH1 got a lot of mileage — and the upcoming series “Mad Love” — out of the third season of former WB resident “The Surreal Life.”

Among the new series to launch big are FX’s Denis Leary drama “Rescue Me,” Sci Fi Channel spinoff “Stargate Atlantis” and Comedy Central’s “Drawn Together.”

Popular on Variety

Short-run event projects including sci-fi drama “The 4400” and “The Grid” were able to break through the clutter, as were big concept movies such as “3,” an ESPN original movie about the life of Dale Earnhardt, which racked up the year’s biggest 18-49 tally (4 million).

TNT’s fantasy telepic “The Librarian” and horror miniseries “Salem’s Lot” also booked big numbers.

Younger-image campaigns worked wonders for TBS and A&E. The latter had a boffo year with its quartet of unscripted winners — “Airline,” “Growing up Gotti,” “The First 48” and “Dog the Bounty Hunter” — and dramatic hits such as “Ike: Countdown to D-Day” and “Riverman.”

WHAT DIDN’T: Most frosh reality series found it tough to break out of the clutter, including Bravo entries “Things I Hate About You,” “Manhunt” and “Project Runway”; TBS’ “He’s a Lady”; and MTV’s “Battle for Ozzfest.”

Spike TV’s new set of unscripted series — “I Hate My Job,” “The Club” and “Joe Schmo 2” — failed to take off, though the success of unscripted spesh “True Dads With Bruce Willis” bodes hope for the upcoming doc series “Untold.”

With little new in 2004, Lifetime fared OK with its younger-skewing “Missing” and is just now picking up steam with its low-budget Monday night made-fors.

GSN’s refocus on all things games also proved more of a struggle for the cabler, though it looks to rebound with upcoming horseracing series “American Dream Derby.”

WHAT’S AHEAD: Several cablers are ringing in the new year with makeovers. The frosh exec teams at USA and ABC Family will put their first thumbprints on its brands.

USA will launch its update of the “Kojak” series and a reality project in time for its summer relaunch.

The regime at ABC Family is gearing up to get several reality series and a handful of scripted projects — possibly including a coming-of-age laffer about a teen uncertain about his sexual identity — on the air.

Bravo unveils tagline “Watch What Happens” in January, as well as “Queer Eye” spinoff skein “Gal Pals.”

MTV is banking on more of the Simpson clan with “The Nick Lachey Project” and another helping of “The Ashlee Simpson Show.”

More big events are on the way with Steven Spielberg’s epic Western on TNT, and a possible 10-part morality mini from George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh for FX.