New York -- USA Network rolled the dice and came up big
with its expensive and acclaimed Moby Dick miniseries last week, scoring an 8.1
rating each night, March 15 and 16.
"It was estimated at a fairly high level for
advertisers, but this exceeded our expectations," said Tom Bumbera, director of
research for USA Networks Inc.
According to USA's analysis of Nielsen Media Research
reports, nearly 18 million viewers watched some or all of the movie over its two 8 p.m. to
10 p.m. airings on Sunday and Monday. Both parts of the series, which starred Patrick
Stewart as Captain Ahab, earned 12 shares and attracted about 5.9 million homes -- the
largest audience ever for an original entertainment program on basic cable, USA said.
The show fell short of the record rating for an original
entertainment show: USA's China Lake Murders still holds that honor, earning an 8.4
rating in 1990.
USA spent about $5 million to market the $20 million
production -- its first collaboration with Hallmark Entertainment -- and it received a hat
full of free publicity, such as a TV Guide cover, and positive reviews.
"Everyone knows Moby Dick. It has instant
recognition going for it," Bumbera said. "Anyone who saw the first 10 to 15
minutes knew that the production values were quite high."
More impressive, USA stacked up well against the broadcast
networks in the entire 98 million TV-home universe, and not just in cable homes, as the
show rivaled the broadcast networks both for viewers overall and among adults.
For example, the first hour of the premiere night
outdelivered ABC (5.748 million homes to 5.715 million). The second night beat out NBC,
CBS and Fox in men 18-plus, and ABC, NBC and CBS for men 18 to 49, USA said.
And Moby didn't munch on a festival of reruns: Much
of the programming on the rival networks was made up of original episodes.
Even the repeat showings, which ran directly afterward, did
well, drawing a 3.8 the first night and a 3.2 the second night.
The lesson from the strong ratings is: "People don't
make that much of a distinction anymore whether the program is on the 'Big 3' or 'Big 4'
or cable networks. Look at SouthPark. Look at Moby Dick. Look at
Nickelodeon," Bumbera said.
He added that rivals should cheer Moby's performance
because "people's perception of basic cable continues to improve."
The movie also assured USA of victory in the
primetime-ratings race for the first quarter. The network had a 2.5 rating with one week