Pro football is back both on the field and in the cable ratings column.
ESPN's Sept. 8 Monday Night Football kickoff doubleheader scored big with viewers, garnering the highest viewership of any show on cable this year.
The Green Bay Packers' 24-19 win over the Minnesota Vikings drew 12.5 million viewers and a 9.3 rating from 7 to 10:30 p.m. (ET), according to Nielsen Media Research data. The rating was up 8.1% over the 8.6 for last season's MNF opener between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, while viewership rose 12.8% from 11.1 million watchers last year.
The Denver Broncos' 41-14 annihilation of the Oakland Raiders, which kicked off at 10:30 p.m. ET, drew nearly 9.7 million viewers and pulled a 7.3 rating, making it cable's second most-watched program so far this year.
The nightcap's rating was 5.8% higher than the 6.9 for the second game of the 2007 MNF-opening doubleheader, the Arizona Cardinals-San Francisco 49ers contest. The viewer average improved 13.7% from the 8.5 million for Cards-Niners.
The games mark the two largest audiences for any cable program in 2008 to date, easily outpacing the 9.1 million total viewers who tuned in for Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby (also telecast by ESPN) on July 14.
HBO DRAWS 'BLOOD'
ESPN wasn't the only cable network premiering a series last week
HBO took a decent bite out of the Sunday-night television audience, drawing 2.1 million combined viewers for its Sept. 7 premiere of original vampire series True Blood.
The Alan Ball-produced series debuted at 9 p.m. with 1.4 million viewers, with a repeat 10:30 p.m. airing drawing an additional 700,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data. While the series drew more viewers than the 910,000 that tuned into the September 2007 premiere of Tell Me You Love Me, it fell short of other HBO series premieres such as Carnivale (5.3 million), Ball's Six Feet Under (5 million), Big Love (4.5 million), Rome (3.8 million) and John From Cincinnati (3.4 million)
The pay TV service's Hollywood comedy series Entourage performed slightly better, averaging 1.6 million viewers during its 10 p.m. Sunday season-five premiere, according to Nielsen. That number, however was down 25% from the 2.2 million viewers the network averaged for Entourage's fourth-season premiere on June 17, 2007.
Meanwhile, Black Entertainment Television's Sept. 9 bow of scripted series Somebodies drew 618,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. The series, about a group of slacker college kids, is the African-American targeted network's first foray into the scripted series arena.