The Super Bowl doesn't kick off until Feb. 3, but cable had its own Super Sunday on Jan. 6, when a slew of original series and shows scored several record-breaking performances.
Overall, cable whipped the broadcast networks in the night's ratings, as viewers flocked to shows on Home Box Office, Lifetime Television and FX during an extremely competitive primetime.
HBO's female-targeted series Sex and the City
netted its highest ratings ever Jan. 6. The premiere installment of its fourth-season "bonus" run — an extra six episodes — generated a 14.4 rating, besting the series' previous high of 13.3 for the fourth-season finale on Aug. 12.
The premiere of the fifth season of HBO's gritty prison drama Oz
also fared well, pulling an 8.1 rating, up 17 percent over last year's season average of 6.9.
Even more impressively, HBO drew a higher rating among 18-to-34-year-old viewers during the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot than all other broadcast and cable networks.
"We didn't know what to expect; we were up against first-run broadcast shows and ESPN's pro football telecasts," said HBO and Cinemax senior vice president of program planning David Baldwin. "It shows that Sex and the City
is one of the most dominant half-hour series on television."
Showtime also reported strong performances that evening from the second-season premieres of Queer as Folk
and The Chris Isaak Show. Although the network would not reveal specific figures, a network spokeswoman said Queer's Jan. 6 debut outperformed last season's overall average performance and continued to double Showtime's overall primetime average.
The new Isaak
installment turned in a rating nearly 50 percent higher than the program's first-season debut, said Showtime officials.
But the premium networks weren't alone in garnering impressive ratings on Jan. 6. FX's premiere of its original movie, Sins of the Father, scored a 2.9 household rating. That was good for second place among the network's highest-rated original shows, behind the movie Glimpse of Hell, which bowed in March 2000.
Sins of the Father
, which stars Tom Sizemore, Richard Jenkins and Ving Rhames, did break network audience records, drawing more than 3.2 million viewers for its premiere.
Also, Lifetime's Jan. 6 second-season premiere of The Division
set a series record with a 3.4 household rating.
"What we're seeing is a robust embrace of the brands on cable that people like," said Lifetime senior vice president of research Tim Brooks.
For the night, basic cable averaged a 34.2 rating and 52.5 share, up 22.6 percent and 24.4 percent, respectively, from the comparable night last year, according to the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau.
Cable's performance dwarfed that of the four major broadcast networks. ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox combined to average a 24.2 rating for the night — down 23 percent from last year — and captured a 41.6 share of the evening's viewing audience, off 12 percent from the same period in 2001.
But not every Jan. 6 cable premiere posted big numbers. Bravo's heavily hyped reality series The It Factor
mustered a 0.3 rating. But network officials said the show performed admirably among viewers aged 18 to 49.
"We feel good about the premiere and the growing buzz around the series," noted Bravo senior vice president of programming and production Frances Berwick.
TNN: The National Network's launch of the highly touted series Conspiracy Zone
drew a 0.26 rating, said the network.