‘Closer,’ ‘Grace’ off to solid start

ESPN's 'Derby' hits a record-setting home run

TNT’s “The Closer” and “Saving Grace” reaped a solid crop of viewers for their season preems on Monday.

“Closer” racked up 7.8 million total viewers during its fourth-season premiere at 9 p.m., followed by the second-season kickoff of “Saving Grace,” which shed about 35% of its lead-in aud.

Both were topped by ESPN’s impressive numbers for baseball’s “Home Run Derby,” which attracted a record 9.12 million viewers — up a whopping 35% from last year (6.8 million) and 17% higher than its previous best (7.7 million) set in 2004.

The long-ball competition was the top-rated program of the night in both total viewers and adults 18-49.

The total-viewer number for “Closer,” meanwhile, was down from its season-three debut (8.8 million on June 18, 2007) and season-two kickoff (8.27 million on June 12, 2006). But a big reason for the disparity was that, unlike Monday’s episode, TNT ran the previous two “Closer” season premieres with no commercial interruptions.

Monday’s commercial load also negatively affected the target audience of adults 25-54 compared with the opening episodes of the previous two seasons, with 3.3 million viewers in that age range compared with 3.5 million the previous two years.

Nevertheless, TNT said Monday’s “Closer” seg represented ad-supported cable’s top series telecast for the year so far in total viewers and the adults 25-54 demo.

“Grace” averaged 5.2 million viewers, 19% behind the 6.4 million it chalked up during its first-season debut on July 23, 2007. But TNT said the 5.2 million made the “Grace” seg the second-highest season premiere so far this year in households.

“Grace” brought in 2.3 million in adults 25-54 compared with 2.5 million last year.

The slight dips didn’t faze Turner Entertainment boss Steve Koonin, who has an ambitious plan for TNT under which it will expand its original series offerings on the heels of the traction the cabler has enjoyed with “Closer” and “Grace.”

(Rick Kissell contributed to this report.)

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