USA Contending for 1Q Crown

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With roughly one week left in the first quarter, resurgent USA Network is tied with perennial ratings topper Turner Network Television for No. 1 in primetime.

USA and TNT -- the latter of which has held the top ratings crown for more than one year -- are each tracking to register a 2.1 household rating, according to an ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

Thus far, USA has posted a sizable 31% advance from a 1.6 a year ago, while TNT has seen a 5% increase, up from a 2.0, for the period of Dec. 29, 2003, through March 21, according to Nielsen.

The first quarter officially ends this Sunday.

It’s been several years since USA -- then fueled by blockbuster professional-wrestling numbers -- was No. 1 in the primetime ratings for a full quarter. During the current period, the network has been lifted by original series like Monk and off-network series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

USA and TNT were followed in primetime by Nickelodeon with a 2.0, which saw an 11% gain over a year ago. Disney Channel was fourth with a 1.7 average, while TBS Superstation was fifth with a 1.6.

Erstwhile ratings leader Lifetime Television was sixth with a 1.5 rating in primetime. Lifetime was off 12% quarter-to-date, from a 1.7, according to Nielsen.

The all-news channels -- which saw their ratings soar one year ago with their coverage of the Iraq war -- were all down substantially in primetime.

Cable News Network posted a 0.8, a 38% drop from last year’s 1.3. Fox News Channel slid 33%, to a 1.2 from a 1.8, according to Nielsen. And MSNBC was down 50%, to a 0.3 from a 0.6.

The biggest gainers in primetime for the first quarter included Bravo, up 67% to a 0.5; SoapNet, up 50% to a 0.6; National Geographic Channel, up 50% to a 0.3; and Speed Channel, up 50% to a 0.3.