USA Stiff-Arms ESPN in Weekly Ratings

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Not even a pair of pro-football games could derail USA Network’s hold on basic cable’s top perch in primetime last week.

The characters network -- benefiting from its Monday-night airings of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.’s WWE Monday Night Raw franchise and off-network airings of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit -- averaged a 2.5 household mark Dec. 12-18 to edge ESPN’s 2.4, according to Disney ABC Cable Networks Group’s analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

Turner Network Television -- which is being fitted to don basic cable’s primetime crown for the year -- finished third last week with a 2.0 rating, ahead of Lifetime Television’s 1.9. TBS and Disney Channel were next, both charting 1.7 marks to surpass Nick at Nite’s 1.6.

There was a logjam at the bottom of the top 10, as Fox News Channel, Cartoon Network, Hallmark Channel and ABC Family all ended the week tied at a 1.5. The latter two networks saw their results spiked by their presentations of holiday-themed fare.

Among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 crowd, ESPN returned the favor against USA, winning that ratings battle 1.3-1.2, with the 1.2 matched by TBS. TNT was fourth with a 1.0, while ABC Family ranked fifth with a 0.8 average against that key demo.

ESPN’s presentation of the Chicago Bears’ 16-3 triumph over the Atlanta Falcons Dec. 18 was the highest-rated show of the week, tackling an 8.5. However, the Denver Broncos’ win over the Buffalo Bills the night before posted a 4.8, good for second place.

Whether that kind of performance helps the National Football League in its push to sell a late-season package of Thursday and Saturday primetime games remains to be seen.

Hallmark Channel original Meet the Santas, with a 3.6 Dec. 17, was the top-rated movie in basic cable last week, nipping the 3.5 recorded by TBS for its airing of Tom Hanks theatrical Forrest Gump the following night.

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