TNT Scores With Rizzoli & Isles, Closer Tandem

TNT’s new original series Rizzoli & Isles got off to a rip-roaring start Monday night, drawing 7.55 million total viewers leading out of the season-six premiere of The Closer.

The Angie Harmon-Sasha Alexander crime drama retained a whopping 99 percent of its 9 p.m. Closer lead-in (7.66 million viewers), making it one of the biggest debuts in cable history. (On Sept. 1, 2008, TNT drew 7.74 million live-plus-same-day viewers with the commercial-free debut of the Steven Bochco courthouse drama Raising the Bar.)

Rizzoli & Isles actually built on The Closer’s demos, drawing 2.72 million adults 25-54 (up 2 percent) and 2.08 million adults 18-49 (up 4 percent) in the 10 p.m. slot.

The return of Brenda Leigh Johnson scared up 7.66 million viewers at 9 p.m., marking a 7 percent improvement from The Closer’s June 8, 2009, season-five premiere. Kyra Sedgwick and company continue to deliver a somewhat greyer audience, averaging 2.68 million adults 25-54 and just shy of 2 million viewers 18-49.

With its strong female leads––Sopranos alum Lorraine Bracco also stars as Harmon’s domineering mother––Rizzoli & Isles appears to be the perfect companion piece for The Closer. And the duo’s Monday night slot could prove to be particularly attractive to female viewers, seeing as how the evening is dominated by the male-skewing History series Pawn Stars and American Pickers and USA Network’s WWE Raw.

Among female viewers, much of the competition draws a much younger crowd. Unless it’s hoping to age down dramatically with Rizzoli & Isles, TNT shouldn’t see much overlap with the likes of Bravo’s Real Housewives of New Jersey, E!’s Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami and ABC Family’s scripted hit, The Secret Life of the American Teen.

A note about Raising the Bar. After the show set cable’s all-time record for a premiere delivery, it was tossed out of the nest when The Closer went on its winter hiatus. Four episodes into its first-season run, Raising the Bar not only lost its established lead-in, but was flung into the thick of broadcast’s premiere week, going against season openers of CSI: Miami, Boston Legal and Heroes.

Raising the Bar drew just 2.26 million viewers on Sept. 22, 2008, down 71 percent from its record premiere. The show was canceled after two seasons.