Summer Ratings Race Heats Up Between TNT, USA

Summer’s ratings bout is heating up, as rivals USA Network and TNT traded body blows with no fewer than eight new installments of original scripted fare.

TNT drew first blood on Monday, July 12, as its new Boston-based cop drama Rizzoli & Isles got off to a wicked awesome start, drawing 7.55 million total viewers leading out of the season-six premiere of The Closer. The Angie Harmon-Sasha Alexander procedural retained 99 percent of The Closer audience (7.66 million viewers), making it one of the biggest debuts in cable history. (On Sept. 1, 2008, TNT drew 7.74 million viewers with the commercial-free debut of Raising the Bar.)

The two shows also put up solid numbers among the 25-54 crowd, as Rizzoli & Isles averaged 2.72 million members of the demo, up 2 percent from The Closer’s 2.68 million. R&I also delivered 2.08 million viewers 18-49, while The Closer drew just shy of 2 million.

Turner’s big Monday wasn’t enough to topple USA, which is loaded for bear with five original dramas. The NBC Universal net’s Thursday night tandem of Burn Notice and Royal Pains continued to shine, as the Miami spy thriller scared up 5.65 million viewers at 9 p.m. Lead-out Royal Pains retained 92 percent of Burn’s viewership, averaging 5.2 million viewers.

Both programs notched enviable demos, as Burn averaged 2.36 million viewers 18-49 and 2.67 million adults 25-54, while Royal delivered 2.12 million 18-49s and 2.48 million 25-54s.

Two nights earlier, USA took the wraps off yet another original series, introducing the Piper Perabo spy caper Covert Affairs to 4.88 million total viewers at 10 p.m. Going toe-to-toe with heavyweight fare like the MLB All-Star Game on Fox and the final episode of MTV’s The Hills, Covert Affairs improved 14 percent from its lead-in. The sophomore-season opener of USA’s White Collar delivered 4.29 million total viewers at 9 p.m., down 21 percent from its Oct. 23, 2009 premiere.

If White Collar wilted a bit, it may have had something to do with the heat blasted by Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. The sad end of Captain Phil Harris reeled in 8.55 million total viewers, a record high for the unscripted series. Catch also landed some monster demos, averaging 5.68 million adults 25-54 and 5.16 million viewers 18-49 in its 9 p.m. time slot.

On July 14, USA trotted out Psych for its fifth season, drawing 3.68 million viewers in the Wednesday 10 p.m. time slot. That delivery represented an 8 percent drop from Psych’s August 7, 2009, season-four opener. (The show’s a grower on DVR. Upon application of Nielsen live-plus-seven-day ratings, that year-ago installment averaged 5.34 million viewers, an increase of 34 percent from 3.98 million live-plus-same-day viewers.)

For the week ended July 18 USA averaged 3.26 million total viewers in prime, of whom 1.37 million were adults 25-54, 1.24 million were viewers 18-49 and 571,000 were viewers 18-34.

TNT took second among total viewers (2.63 million) and adults 25-54 (1.11 million), while finishing fifth with viewers 18-49 (917,000).

Fox News Channel jumped back into third place last week, averaging 1.96 million total viewers. With an average nightly draw of 494,000 adults 25-54, nearly a quarter of the news net’s deliveries came courtesy of the target demo.


TBS claimed fourth place on the week, topping ESPN by a margin of 31,000 viewers. The Turner net averaged 1.89 million total viewers, of whom more than half (1.02 million) were members of the 18-49 set. TBS also took the silver with 18-34s, averaging 538,000.

A decided lack of firepower dampened ESPN’s Home Run Derby telecast, as high-profile sluggers like Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols sat out the annual MLB All-Star Game batting contest. Aging Red Sox DH David Ortiz put on a solid display at the plate, but players like Corey Hart and Chris Young didn’t exactly have fans sitting on the edge of their seats. ESPN’s two-and-a-half-hour telecast averaged 6.42 million viewers, down 22 percent from last year’s 8.25 million.

The July 12 Derby telecast did put up some solid demos, drawing 3.36 million viewers 18-49, 3.23 million adults 25-54 and 1.78 million viewers 18-34.

Immediately following the Derby, ESPN drew 3.2 million viewers with its Legends Celebrity Softball exhibition.

On the week, the top 10 outlets serving the primary TV demo were: USA, which averaged 1.24 million viewers 18-49; TBS (1.02 million); Discovery Channel (945,000); ESPN (941,000); TNT (917,000); History (673,000); ABC Family (668,000); Comedy Central (653,000); FX (646,000) and Food Network (605,000).