Welcome Back, Hits


Cable networks said their summer is starting off hot, as returning original scripted shows hold steady or outperform their past marks.

FX's Nip/Tuck, USA Network's Monk and Comedy Central's Reno 911!showed few signs of viewer fatigue, and Lifetime Television mainstay Strong Medicine, now in its fifth campaign, looked healthy, too.

Lifetime executive vice president of research Tim Brooks said cable's patience and long-term investment in original scripted series is paying off in consistently strong ratings performances and dominance over the broadcast networks, in terms of viewer shares.

At press time, cable was on track to draw a 52.8 share of viewers during the second quarter, versus the seven broadcast networks' 42.4 share, according to a Turner Broadcasting System Inc. analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.

“For all of broadcast television's huffing and puffing about 12-month original programming and recapturing the summer, they're down 10% and cable is up,” Brooks said. “That seems to be fueled mostly by returning series.”


Nip/Tuck and Monk set ratings records in respective debuts last week.

The former, FX's drama about plastic surgeons, averaged a 3.6 household rating on June 14, besting last season's high of a 3.5, the network said. The episode also outperformed the 3.2 rating set in its July 22, 2003, premiere and elevated adult 18-to-49 viewing numbers by 35%.

Senior vice president of planning and research Steve Leblang also said FX drew more females to the show while maintaining its predominantly male fans. “We think there is potential to keep this [rating] very high,” he said.

Monk's 4.5 season-debut household rating on USA June 18 was a record for the quirky detective drama starring Tony Shalhoub.

The highest-rated original basic-cable series in 2003 (3.4 average), Monk looks poised to repeat, drawing more than 5.5 million viewers to top the list of cable shows the week of June 14-20, USA said.

After a precipitous ratings falloff during its sophomore season, USA's The Dead Zone has stabilized, too. Three episodes into its third season, it's averaging a 2.3 rating, even with last season, said USA executives.

Comedy Central's sophomore series Reno 911!, a Cops! parody, averaged a 1.4 rating for two episodes, even with last year's summer run, according to Nielsen data.


Lifetime's Strong Medicine pulled a 2.2 rating after two episodes, slightly lower that the 2.3 the female-targeted medical show averaged last season.

On the down side, after two arresting years averaging a 2.8 rating, FX's The Shield slid to a 2.3 this season, a drop the network blamed on increased competition at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays.

TBS so far is encouraged by Sex and the City and its reality-show lead-in, Outback Jack, roped in a 1.7 rating during its June 22 premiere.

Sex had a heck of a premiere week, setting a basic-cable record for an off-network series in delivering adults 18 to 49 (2.3 million), women 18 to 49 (1.6 million) and women 25 to 54 (1.5 million) on June 15 from 10 to 10:36 p.m. It also drew a record number of women 18 to 34 (887,000) for June 16 installment.

Last week, Sex also satisfied TBS. Two episodes on June 22 pulled in 1.76 million and 1.73 million adults 18 to 49, respectively, and 1.29 million and 1.22 million the next night.

TBS officials said Sex and Outback improved their time slots significantly across a spate of measures versus last year.

Elsewhere, Nick at Nite's Fatherhood, based on a Bill Cosby best-selling book, averaged a 2.2 rating on June 22, up 40% from the show's 1.7 rating during its June 20 debut.


Basic-cable miniseries have brought mixed Nielsen results this June. The first half of the Turner Network Television remake of Stephen King's Salem's Lot attracted 5.94 million viewers to the June 20 premiere and 5.26 million to the next night's conclusion. The first installment ranked first for the period June 14-20 among adults 18 to 49, adults 25 to 54, viewers and households, and was the medium's top movie in those categories and adults 18 to 34, year-to-date.

Sci Fi Channel rang up just a 1.4 household rating average for touted five-hour miniseries Five Days to Midnight, which aired from June 7-10, according to Nielsen.