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TNT’s ‘Rizzoli’ sets cable launch record

Debut draws most viewers ever for ad-supported premiere

If there’s a law in the TV universe, it’s that female crimesolvers on TNT will draw significant audiences. And “Rizzoli and Isles” and “The Closer” are enforcing it.

The series premiere of “Rizzoli and Isles” on Monday on TNT set an all-time cable record for an ad-supported series launch, drawing 7.6 million viewers. “Rizzoli” fed off a lead-in provided by “The Closer,” whose audience for Monday’s sixth-season premiere was 7.7 million. The pair rank No. 1 and No. 2 among ad-supported cable series broadcasts in 2010.

“One of the great things about ‘Rizzoli and Isles’ is it does feel like it’s a really great fit with ‘The Closer,’ ” TNT/TBS/TCM exec veep and programming head Michael Wright told Daily Variety. “I think we really embraced that we have this amazing, one-of-a-kind show in ‘The Closer’ — let’s make an effort to develop a show that really respects that audience and delivers something to them that’s complementary.”

Starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander as a Boston detective and medical examiner, “Rizzoli” actually improved on “The Closer’s” audience numbers among adults 18-49 and 25-54.

“Rizzoli” had a premiere audience surpassed only by “Raising the Bar,” whose premiere aired commercial-free in September 2008, when it drew 7.7 million. “Bar” provides something of a cautionary tale as its audience soon declined, and it was cancelled after two seasons late in 2009.

On the other hand, the continued rise of “The Closer” has to be nothing less than inspiring for TNT execs. The Kyra Sedgwick starrer boosted its viewership 7% compared to its fifth-season premiere 13 months ago.

“I could not be happier about the number for ‘Rizzoli and Isles,'” Wright said, “but I would hate for the performance of ‘The Closer’ to be ignored. … They have such high standards, and I’m not blowing smoke — I think that’s why the number continues to stay strong. (The audience) knows it’s not going to be let down.”

The only primetime show to draw more than 7.7 million viewers on broadcast TV Monday was ABC’s “The Bachelorette,” with 9.5 million. For comparison, the “Rizzoli” premiere roughly matched a CBS rerun of “CSI: Miami” among viewers 18-49 (each with a 5 share) but drew approximately 1 million more sets of eyes overall.

Janet Tamaro and Bill Haber (Ostar Prods.) exec produce “Rizzoli” via Warner Horizon TV. The skein co-stars Lorraine Bracco, Lee Thompson Young, Bruce McGill and Jordan Bridges. James Duff exec produces “The Closer” with Greer Shephard, Michael M. Robin, Rick Wallace and Sedgwick.

ESPN also had happy news to report on the cable side, with its broadcast of baseball’s 2010 “Home Run Derby” averaging 6.4 million viewers Monday (2.6 rating/8 share in 18-49).

And Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New Jersey” opened its season to 3.3 million viewers — the largest aud for an episode of the franchise that wasn’t a finale.

(Rick Kissell contributed to this report.)

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