The summer competish among broadcasters and cablers was livelier than ever this year.
Cable nets once again took advantage of the broadcasters’ off-season frame to launch several new scripted players — including breakout successes in TNT’s “Rizzoli and Isles,” USA’s “Covert Affairs,” A&E’s “The Glades” and TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland.”
But the broadcast nets didn’t throw in the towel this time around. The Big Four networks were up summer-to-summer by 5% among adults 18-49, while ad-supported cable as a whole dipped in the 18-49 demo by 3%.
Among total viewers, the growth story was almost identical: The Big Four were up 3% and the cablers were flat. The top 10 ad-supported entertainment cable nets were up 4%.
But those numbers only tell part of the story. The broadcasters growth, for starters, was boosted by double-digit gains at ABC, which enjoyed a blockbuster NBA Finals series (a seven-game rematch between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics) in June.
Cable’s declines, meanwhile, came in part from off-net repeats, which didn’t perform as well this summer.
And in the race to launch new scripted franchises, cable wound up with more new entries that appear to be long-term players.
Ultimately, though, while cable dipped and broadcast rebounded this summer, USA, TNT and company have more reason to toast their success this Labor Day weekend. Here’s a look at this summer’s winners and losers:
—USA Network. For the fifth-consecutive year, the NBC U-owned net was cable’s top network, dominating all rivals among total viewers.
Summer-to-date in primetime, USA has averaged nearly 3.5 million viewers, an advantage of 1 million over No. 2 TNT. USA also wins in adults 18-49 (1.3 million) and 25-54 (1.4 million).
USA was helped in particular by newcomer “Covert Affairs,” which built sharply on its “White Collar” lead-in and wound up as the summer’s No. 2 new original series on ad-supported cable. But returning hits “Burn Notice” and “Royal Pains” also led USA’s summer success.
—TNT’s “Rizzoli and Isles” and “Memphis Beat.” Not to be outdone by USA, Turner also found success in adding new series that fit into the channel’s brand.
“Rizzoli and Isles” repped the surprise success story of the summer. The show, starring Angie Harmon as a Boston detective and Sasha Alexander as a medical examiner, averaged a strong 8.1 million viewers in original episodes, ahead of all other basic cable series.
“Memphis Beat,” fronted by Jason Lee, also opened strong for TNT, landing a second-season pickup as well.
—A&E. The cabler fielded its most promising original drama to date (by its ratings benchmark) in “The Glades.” The crime procedural has a lighter tone than the channel’s past entries, and Aussie star Matt Passmore is getting attention as a TV newcomer to watch.
—“Hot in Cleveland.” TV Land hit the bull’s-eye of its target demo with its first original laffer, thanks to a strong cast with gold-plated sitcom credentials: Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Betty White. The show nabbed a 20-episode renewal after three airings.
— “True Blood.” Sex, skin and vampires put HBO in the top 10 week after week in the 18-49 derby, which is no mean feat for an outlet with a fraction of the distribution of its broadcast and basic cable competish.
—New Jersey. The Garden State’s flashiest residents have undeniable heat — even if locals like Gov. Chris Christie aren’t fans. Season two of “Jersey Shore” continues to grow on MTV, where Snooki, the Situation and crew have become celebs and cottage industries in their own right. And Bravo just gave a renewal to the acrylic-nail-loving Jersey “Housewives.”
—Veteran broadcast reality shows “Big Brother” and “The Bachelor.” By all rights of reality-TV gravity, both primetime staples should have run out of gas at this point, but to the credit of their producers and networks, both “Brother” and “Bachelor” have managed to evolve and remain part of the summer TV zeitgeist.
—Repeats. With so much original fare on broadcast and cable, auds have continued to turn their back on summer reruns — particularly dramas and single-camera comedies.
The swoon has hit CBS particularly hard. The Eye’s summer viewership is down 5%, the most of the Big Four nets. CBS’ Monday night comedy block held up fine, but execs may want to think about adding more originals next year to avoid another dip.
The trend isn’t just affecting broadcasters. Off-net repeats are also facing viewer erosion at the cable nets — which partly explains cable’s ratings declines.
— New scripted broadcast series. With the exception of “Rookie Blue,” ABC’s Canadian acquisition that performed decently in the “Grey’s Anatomy” Thursday 9 p.m. timeslot, the broadcasters’ latest stab at original scripted fare didn’t make much noise. The networks stacked their sked with original dramas this summer, many of the international co-production variety. But most of the shows, including Fox’s new fall entry “The Good Guys,” failed to deliver.
—“Oprah Winfrey.” Viewers are already saying farewell to the retiring Queen of Talk, who has seen her ratings drop 12% this summer. Winfrey will likely get a big boost once her final season begins later this month, but her show’s massive erosion this summer is proof that her sense of timing is still good. It’s time to wrap up her syndie run.
Winfrey’s declines, meanwhile, may have helped “Judge Judy.” The veteran gaveler is now leading the daytime syndie pack, thanks to a 7% ratings jump this summer.
Rick Kissell contributed to this report.