The first week of television’s summer season represented something of a perfect storm for cable, which swamped the broadcast networks in unprecedented fashion.
The combination of History miniseries “Hatfields and McCoys” and the NBA Playoffs on ESPN and TNT accounted for nine of the week’s top 10 programs (see May 28-June 3 chart). History also edged out CBS as the week’s most-watched network overall, and finished closely behind ESPN in the adults 18-49 rankings, as cable claimed the top two spots.
Cable could also claim the top seven spots for the week of June 4-10 with basketball and HBO’s “True Blood,” but in general such dominance won’t continue this summer. The NBA postseason concludes with the finals on broadcaster ABC, and most broadcast reality series will outdraw the top-tier cable offerings.
But it is rather eye-opening to see what can happen in the period immediately following the season finales of broadcast heavyweights like “The Big Bang Theory” and “American Idol” — the most vulnerable time of the year for the Big Four.
According to Nielsen estimates, “Hatfields” drew the largest audience on record for a scripted basic-cable program (14.3 million for its third and final night) after having just established the mark with its opening night (13.9 million). Just about the only programs to ever be seen by a larger audience on cable have been “Monday Night Football” and the college football championship game (both on ESPN) and the Disney Channel sensation “High School Musical 2” in 2007.
And while the total-viewer count of “Hatfields” was padded by a sizable 50-plus audience, it fared very well in key demos, too. The 25-54 audience (about 6 million) was the biggest for a basic-cable scripted program since USA’s “Moby Dick” in 1998, and the 18-49 audience (about 5 million) was larger than just about any recent scripted cable series other than AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
The miniseries skewed about 54% male, and drew much of its audience from homes in the region immediately south of the Mason-Dixon line. Among Nielsen’s 56 metered markets, the highest ratings came from Knoxville (Tenn.), Louisville (Ky.), Birmingham (Ala.), Greenville-Spartanburg (S.C.) and Nashville.
Conversely, the miniseries under-indexed in major coastal cities, and was especially weak in the West — contributing to the shock factor around Hollywood when the boffo ratings came in. The lowest metered-market scores came from San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and San Diego.
History was able to tap into a large chunk of audience that doesn’t typically watch much primetime television, and the mini’s average audience of 13.8 million was more than seven times what the net had averaged in the four weeks prior (1.9 million).
Cable figures to make a couple of more big splashes this month with the June 13 reboot of classic soap “Dallas” on TNT, while FX rolls out Charlie Sheen’s new comedy “Anger Management” on June 28.