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Cable Maintains Ratings Heat

7/19/2008 2:49 AM Eastern

Cable networks drew in millions more viewers than expected with premieres of new and returning series.

The ratings onslaught was led by Turner Network Television’s popular drama series, The Closer. The show, starring Kyra Sedgwick, attracted 7.8 million viewers to its fourth-season premiere July 14, the most-watched ad-supported series episode thus far this year, according to Turner officials.

That same night, the network’s Saving Grace, which stars Holly Hunter as a detective moving toward redemption via an angel, drew almost 5.2 million viewers, making it the third-most-watched season premiere on cable this year behind The Closer and USA Network’s Burn Notice, which garnered 5.4 million watchers for its July 10 sophomore season-debut.

Although both shows fell short of their prior-season premieres — The Closer garnered 8.8 million viewers in its June 2007 fourth-season debut, Saving Grace 6.4 million in its premiere episode last July— their 2008 season debuts rank among the top cable performances in what has been a very competitive cable programming landscape.

“With The Closer and Saving Grace, we hit a 500-foot home run instead of a 540-foot home run, but it’s still out of the park either way,” said Michael Wright, senior vice president of Turner Entertainment Networks’ Content Creation Group. “I’m happy that we got in the game three or four years ago. We’re in as good a place as we can be in given that kind of competition.”

One of the newest competitors in the cable scripted arena premiering a show last week is actually a veteran of the genre: A&E’s July 15 debut of its one-hour drama series The Cleaner was the network’s first scripted-series premiere in six years.

The series, which stars Benjamin Bratt as an ex-addict who tries to cure others of their various addictions, drew 2.6 million viewers, the second-highest audience for an A&E scripted-series premiere behind only the 2.9 million viewers that tuned into the 2000 launch of 100 Centre Street, according to A&E officials.

The show, executive-produced by Jonathan Prince (American Dreams), is the first scripted fare from A&E since 2002, when the network cancelled crime-drama series 100 Centre Street and Nero Wolfe.

A&E also barked up ratings with the July 16 return of Dog the Bounty Hunter. The reality series, which A&E suspended last November after the National Enquirer posted an audio clip of Chapman using the n-word on his Web site, generated 2.7 million viewers for its fifth-season debut, above the 2.1 million who watched its 2007 season-four opener.

Other notable cable show premieres last week:

Bravo’s designer-based reality series Project Runway garnered a network record 2.9 million viewers in the July 16 debut for its fifth — and most likely last for the network — season.

The Weinstein Co.-produced series is set to move to Lifetime as part of a reported five-year, $150 million distribution deal with the female-skewed network. Bravo is currently suing Weinstein over it, saying the company did not honor NBC Universal and Bravo’s right of first refusal before signing a deal with any other company for new seasons of the show.

TV Land’s Family Foreman, drew 552,000 total viewers in its July 16 premiere. The audience for the premiere episode of the series, starring former heavyweight champion George Foreman and his family of 10 kids, fell short of that for the premiere of two other freshman TV Land series, She’s Got the Look (669,000) and High School Reunion (617,000).

Two July 15 series debuts on MTV each drew more than 1 million viewers. The series premiere of the Jamie Foxx-executive-produced makeover series From G’s to Gents averaged 1.3 million viewers, while the two-episode, fifth season premiere of the network’s celebreality series Run’s House 5 averaged 1.7 million total viewers.

USA’s original series Monk and Psych were set to premiere July 18. Monk, which stars Tony Shalhoub as an obsessive-compulsive detective, is coming off its best ratings performance ever: It averaged 6.1 million viewers over six episodes during the second half of its sixth season, which began Jan. 11. The Feb. 22 sixth-season finale attracted a series high 6.8 million viewers.

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