Headed by a record-setting debut for USA Network's The Dead Zone, basic-cable's summer lineup continued to siphon viewers from the broadcast television networks at unprecedented levels.
In the week of June 10 through June 16, ad-supported cable networks reached a record 54.1 percent share of all television households, according to a Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. That number was up 13.2 percent from the same week last year.
By comparison, the primetime weighted share for the seven national broadcast networks was off 14.1 percent from the year-ago period, to a record low of 37.9 from June 10 to June 16, according to the CAB.
Basic cable improved on its average household rating by 15.2 percent. It notched a 29.6, compared with a 25.7 during the same period a year ago. Average household ratings for the broadcast networks, meanwhile, dropped 12.8 percent from a 23.8 in 2001 to a 20.7 this year, said the CAB.
Cable's performance was impressive, considering broadcasters this year have made a conscious effort to launch several original series during the summer, said Lifetime Television senior vice president of research Tim Brooks. But viewers have been conditioned to turn to cable for new summer fare, rather than broadcast, which historically has aired reruns after Memorial Day, he said.
"The perception of summer repeats that's so deeply ingrained in the minds of viewers won't change right away, regardless of how many new shows they offer [during the summer]," Brooks said. "It will take time for the viewers to begin to give broadcasters credit for [summer] original programming."
Cable's ratings charge was led by the record-breaking performance of USA's The Dead Zone. The series, based on a Steven King novel of the same name and starring Anthony Michael Hall, drew a 4.7 household rating — the highest-rated debut for an original cable series.
"We knew that Steven King's name was familiar to the audience and we really hammered it home, both on and off the air, with a terrific marketing campaign, so we were hoping for the show to make an impact," said USA Network executive vice president and general manager Michele Ganeless. "We're thrilled that it broke the [original-series debut] record."
Ganeless would not disclose USA's initial ratings projections for Dead Zone, but noted that the 13-episode series was expected to draw ratings higher than USA's 1.7 first-quarter primetime ratings average.
"I don't think [breaking a ratings record] is something that's ever planned on," she added.
Though network executives admitted it would be virtually impossible for the show to continue its record-setting pace, USA hopes to retain about 70 percent to 75 percent of the series' audience throughout the remainder of the season.
"We were able to attract a solid number of our core 25-54 audience, so we're confident that they'll come back," Ganeless said.
Also posting strong primetime ratings performances during the week were Lifetime's original movie Too Young to Be a Dad,
which pulled a 4.1 rating on June 10, and Turner Network Television's June 16 second-season debut of original series Witchblade, which drew a 2.6 rating.
And last week, Court TV's new reality series —Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege and Justice
— came out of the gate strong, earning a 1.5 household rating on June 19. That's the highest original-series number in the network's history.
Power, which attracted some 1.08 million households, was also the most-watched original program ever for Court TV.
BASIC'S TOP 10
Lifetime's 2.3 average bested USA's 2.0 mark to win the week's primetime ratings crown. While several networks had one- or two-day ratings spikes during the week, Lifetime's ratings remained consistent throughout the period, said Brooks. The women's network averaged a 2.0 rating or better on six of the week's seven days, he added.
Rounding out the top 10: TNT and Cartoon Network (tied with a 1.9 rating); Nickelodeon (1.8); TBS Superstation (1.6); ESPN (1.3); TNN: The National Network (1.1) and Discovery Channel; and Fox News Channel and The Learning Channel (1.0).
USA took top primetime ratings honors in all the major demographic groups — adults 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and 25 to 54.