Friday Night’s Alright

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Showing off strong original programming — and capitalizing on the relative lack of solid broadcast competition — NBC Universal-owned USA Network and Sci Fi Channel, as well as the Hallmark Channel, are carving out impressive ratings on Friday nights.

Sci Fi Channel, featuring a trio of original series, and USA Network, with fresh installments of stalwart detective show Monk, have uncovered strong numbers.

Meanwhile, Hallmark’s decision to reach out to female viewers at home on Fridays — historically a low HUT (households using television) night — with a “Mystery Movies” franchise has propelled the network to its best-ever January.

Sci Fi Channel’s launch last month of Battlestar Galactica, new episodes from the second half of the eighth season of Stargate SG-1 and the back end of the rookie campaign for spin-off Stargate Atlantis have helped the network claim basic-cable’s top spot on Fridays in primetime among adults 25 to 54 and men 25 to 54 each week since Jan.14.

SCI FI TRIO TOPS 2.0

Through Feb. 6, each of the three shows have averaged over a 2.0 household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Battlestar, a continuation of the Sci Fi miniseries that updated the 1970s ABC series, headed the pack with a 2.4 rating. Stargate SG-1 — now in its third original season on Sci Fi since shifting from premium channel Showtime — has averaged a 2.1, while spinoff Atlantis has pulled a 2.2

“We’ve always known and believed that Friday night was a big night for Sci Fi,” said Sci Fi Channel and USA Network president Bonnie Hammer. “It seems the people who watch science-fiction programming are home on Fridays, so even though there are lower HUTs we know that our audience is watching.”

Hammer said the network has been cultivating its “Sci Fi Friday” base for years, reserving a spot for many of its most popular shows, like Farscape.

Battlestar, in particular, has thrived despite going head-to-head at 10 p.m. with basic cable’s strongest original-series ratings producer, Monk.

Now in its fourth season, the USA series, starring Tony Shalhoub as quirky detective Adrian Monk, has averaged a 3.9 household rating through Feb. 6. After scoring a 4.4 during its Jan. 21 premiere, the show dropped to a 3.3 up against the Jan. 28 time-slot premiere of Numb3rs, CBS’s new crime-series hit.

But Hammer said Monk bounced back to a 4.0 rating on Feb. 4, proving that its position is still strong among fans. She noted that Battlestar and Monk appeal to different audiences and therefore don’t cannibalize viewers.

Monk is more female and older-skewing, while the Sci Fi block is more male and younger,” she said. “One is very serious human drama, while the other is a light, extraordinarily well done procedural.”

Together, the two series combined to secure four of the top five slots (three for Battlestar) among the highest-rated entertainment-based shows against adults 18 to 49 in January, according to NBC Universal officials.

Looking to summer, the ninth season of SG-1 will feature the addition of Beau Bridges and Lou Gossett Jr. to the cast, while Atlantis’s second season will pick up The X-Files alumnus Mitch Pileggi.

But the NBC Universal channels aren’t the only cable networks performing well on Friday. Hallmark has established a solid Nielsen home for original films under three banners: Kellie Martin in “Mystery Woman”; John Larroquette in “McBride”; and Lea Thompson in “Jane Doe.”

HALLMARK NUMBERS

Through the first five of its 12-film scheduled run, Hallmark, led by McBride’s The Chameleon Murder (1.09 million households) on Jan. 14, averaged a 1.52 rating, a 69% jump above the 0.9 mark the network garnered during the 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. time period in fourth quarter 2004, according to executive vice president of programming David Kenin.

The movies helped Hallmark post a 1.0 primetime household rating in January — its highest-ever for the month.

“It’s been consistent and shows that there is an appetite for these movies,” Kenin said.

“We’ve opened up that night and achieved the five highest-rated Fridays in our history.”

The telepics have proven so successful that Hallmark has already ordered six more. Kenin hopes to get them on the air later this year.

Kenin said the movies are skewing about 60% female, with a heavy concentration of women 25 to 54.

Despite Hallmark’s already established mystery-themed Sunday afternoon programming block, Kenin believed the movies would face less competition on Friday nights, so the original franchises were scheduled there.

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