Covert, Catch, Hills Heat Up Tuesday

On a hotly contested summer Tuesday, USA Network served up yet another strong original series premiere, as the Piper Perabo spy drama Covert Affairs delivered 4.88 million total viewers in the 10 p.m. slot.

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.

While Collar wilted a bit in the summer heat, it’s noteworthy that the show originally debuted behind a very strong installment of USA’s Monk, which that fall was headed into the home stretch of its 8-season run. (That particular episode of Monk averaged 5.42 million viewers, per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data.)

And then there was the competition. Deadliest Catch reeled in 8.55 million total viewers over on Discovery, a record high for the unscripted hit. 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.

At 10 p.m., Covert Affairs had its hands full with the Hills finale, and while the shows’ target demos are considerably different, 18-49s were in play. Some 2.95 million fans––including 2.26 million viewers 18-49––tuned in to see MTV archly deconstruct the scripted-reality hybrid, which ended with an overt nod to its own artifice. (When the cameras pulled back for a last look at Brody Jenner and Kristin Cavallari, it was revealed that they were standing on a Hollywood set.)

Back at USA, Covert’s demos held up under fire. The 90-minute premiere served up 2.1 million viewers 18-49 and 2.3 million adults 25-54, improving on its White Collar lead-in by 28 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

At this juncture, Covert has outdrawn all new scripted summer series in the 18-49 demo, edging TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles (2.08 million), while handily beating the Turner net’s Memphis Beat (1.41 million) and A&E’s The Glades (1.21 million).

Presented with limited commercial interruptions (thanks to an integrated pact with automotive sponsor BMW), Covert Affairs hopes to connect with a more upscale audience. Per Nielsen, 32 percent of the adults 18-49 who tuned in for USA’s homegrown series in Q2 boasted a household income of $100,000 or more, up 33 percent from Q2 2008.