Cable TV enjoys hot summer

'Saving Grace,' 'Burn' add to ratings spike

Ad-supported cable chalked up a bountiful harvest of viewers this summer, propelled in part by the 10 rookie series that set a cable record by scoring more than 2 million total viewers apiece.

TNT’s “Saving Grace,” starring Holly Hunter, finished No. 1 among the rookie series during the third quarter, averaging 5.34 million viewers over its first nine episodes, up 66% vs. the summer-2006 time period. “Grace” got a big boost from its lead-in, “The Closer,” which, winding up its third season, has reinforced its position as the highest-rated scripted series in the history of basic cable, averaging 8.3 million viewers for 13 episodes this summer.

In addition to “Grace,” two other rookie series averaged more than 4 million viewers in the third quarter, USA’s “Burn Notice” (4.5 million over nine episodes) and Lifetime’s “Army Wives” (4.15 million over 13 hours). Almost half of the audience for “Notice” and “Wives” were adults 18-49, driving the shows to first and second place in that category among rookies. Only about 31% of the “Grace” aud was 18-49 this summer, placing it fifth overall.

The highest-rated nonscripted rookie program for the third quarter was History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers,” which finished fourth overall with 3.48 million viewers. In fifth place was TNT’s medical drama “Heartland,” with 3.05 million, which the network cancelled because it was losing too many viewers from its “Closer” lead-in.

Two new TBS sitcoms, “House of Payne” (averaged 3.05 million viewers) and “The Bill Engvall Show” (2.85 million), placed sixth and seventh for the third quarter. FX’s “Damages,” with Glenn Close, was eighth, with 2.7 million, followed by TLC’s “L.A. Ink,” with 2.39 million. Rounding out the top 10 is VH1’s “Rock of Love,” with 2.06 million.

Separately, among the top-10-rated returning original series this summer, most were down from their previous firstrun cycles, with two notable exceptions: “The Closer,” up 23% at No. 1, and MTV’s “The Hills,” up 66% at No. 4. Bravo’s “Top Chef,” in ninth place, was up by 2%, and second-place “Monk,” from USA, was flat.

The three returning series that fell off the most were, in order of finish, Sci Fi Channel’s “Eureka” (down 11%; sixth place), USA’s “The 4400” (down 29%; seventh) and USA’s “The Dead Zone” (down 16%; eighth).

Among ad-supported nets in primetime, USA ran the table for the third quarter, finishing first in total viewers and in the three key adult demos (18-34, 18-49 and 25-54). TNT was a close second in viewers and adults 25-54; ESPN wound up second in adults 18-49 and MTV was second in adults 18-34.

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