Several cable-network original premieres survived a storm of big events last week to deliver strong ratings performances.
TNT raised the bar for series launches as its new legal drama established a cable record for viewers and households despite going head-to-head with cable news coverage of Hurricane Gustav.
The Steven Bochco-produced original series Raising the Bar on Sept. 1 garnered 5.7 million households and 7.7 million viewers, making it ad-supported cable’s best-ever series launch, according to Nielsen Cable Fast Nationals data.
The show, starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar (NYPD Blue), Gloria Reuben (ER) and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle), also brought in 2.8 million adults 18 to 49 and 3.5 million adults 25 to 54, the medium’s best numbers for series debuts year-to-date, according to TNT officials.
Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin said he was surprised by Bar’s viewership performance, given its Labor Day debut and the stiff competition it faced from cable-network coverage of Gustav and the broadcast-network debuts of Fox’s Prison Break and The CW’s Gossip Girl.
The Weather Channel said its Aug. 30-Sept. 1 coverage of Gustav drew 65 million unduplicated viewers, tops among cable networks.
“We have had a very successful show in Saving Grace, which averages around 5 million viewers, so we had hoped to do as well as that,” Koonin said. “Much to our delight, we blew that away.”
The commercial-free premiere of Raising the Bar benefited from the strength of its lead-in, cable’s No. 1 all-time series, The Closer, which has averaged 7.2 million viewers for the season-to-date.
“The show features characters that are familiar and closed-ended cases, so it’s easy for the viewer to digest,” he said. “When you have a lineup like we have of The Closer, Saving Grace and Law & Order, that similarity of programming created a very large audience target which brought large numbers to the show.”
Meanwhile, the seventh and final season of FX’s The Shield drew 2.1 million viewers for its Sept. 2 premiere, slightly down from last year’s season premiere.
The series, which stars Michael Chiklis as tough cop Vic Mackey, was down 8% from the 2.2 million viewers (live plus seven-day figure) the show drew for its April 2007 season six debut episode.
The show also drew 1.2 million 18-to-49-year-olds, down 17% from the 1.4 million live-plus-seven-day number the show tallied last season, according to FX.
FX spokesman John Solberg said those numbers could match or surpass last year’s figures once DVR numbers are factored in.
FX’s newest series, Sons of Anarchy, performed slightly better than The Shield, drawing 2.5 million viewers overall and 1.5 million 18-to-49-year-olds during its Sept. 3 series-premiere episode.
But the show, which follows the exploits of a motorcycle club, fell short of other FX series premieres, including Rescue Me (4.0 million), The Riches (3.8 million) and Dirt (3.7 million), the latter of which the network cancelled this past June.
Nevertheless, Solberg said the show performed well in light of the fact that it competed in the 10 p.m. ET hour against the highly rated speech from Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin during the political party’s national convention.
The speech drew 37.2 million viewers during the hour, and coverage of the speech from cable news networks Fox News, MSNBC and CNN drew a combined 7 million viewers within the 18-to-49 demo, according to FX.