Summer Thursdays Get Steamy on Cable

Premieres of 'Suits,' 'Wilfred' heat up ratings for USA and FX

Cable programs were the big success stories in the ratings reports from the end of last week, as a host of series premieres and returning shows on Thursday night had viewers pouring in by the millions.

At 9 p.m., USA Network kicked off the fifth season of its stylish spy caper Burn Notice, drawing 5.17 million viewers and 2.28 million adults 18-49. The episode also served up 2.4 million adults 25-54, as the demo accounted for 44 percent of its overall deliveries.

Burn Notice was down 22 percent among total viewers versus the season four premiere on June 3, 2010. The demos also dropped, as adults 18-49 were off 12 percent from the year-ago 2.58 million, while adults 25-54 fell 18 percent from 2.93 million.

Leading out of Burn Notice was the freshman legal drama Suits, and in predictable enough fashion, USA seems to have another hit on its hands. Starring Patrick J. Adams as an unlikely associate at a prestigious New York law firm, Suits retained 90 percent of its lead in, averaging 4.67 million viewers in the 10 p.m. time slot.

The series opener also put up strong demo numbers, drawing 2.04 million adults 18-49 and 2.12 million adults 25-54.

When compared to USA’s two most recent series launches, Suits seems to fit the network nicely. The show outdelivered the Jan. 20 debut of the Sarah Shahi vehicle, Fairly Legal, by 20 percent and lagged behind last summer’s premiere of Covert Affairs by just 5 percent.

“We’re happy with our results, especially since Thursday is such a crowded field,” said USA research svp Ted Linhart. “Not only did you have the NBA draft, but ABC premiered a new show and brought back one of the few summer scripted series on network TV [Rookie Blue].”

Linhart noted that History also scares up a big crowd on Thursday nights with its docuseries Swamp People. The gator hunters are nothing if not consistent, averaging 4.56 million viewers at 9 p.m., or 15,000 viewers shy of the series record 4.57 million it posted on June 16.

“If it’s busy now, just wait until Jersey Shore comes back,” Linhart said. After bowing to a paltry 1.38 million viewers in December 2009, the GTL posse has become a bronzer-stained juggernaut, reaching 8.87 million viewers at its third-season peak. (For those who can’t wait until August 4 to get their Shore fix, the Craig Ferguson-Mila Kunis parody is a worthy diversion.)

Also poised to drum up viewers is Project Runway, which takes its ninth stroll down the catwalk on July 28. Last summer, Heidi Klum and Co. delivered 2.55 million viewers with Runway’s 90-minute season premiere.

FX on Thursday also introduced a new effort, taking the wraps off the gonzo comedy Wilfred. Starring Elijah Wood as a suicidal ex-lawyer who befriends a pot-smoking Aussie in a dog suit—the gimmick is that everyone else sees Wilfred as an actual canine—the premiere drew 2.55 million viewers at 10 p.m., making it the most-watched comedy debut in FX history.

The target 18-49 demo accounted for a whopping 63 percent (1.61 million) of Wilfred’s audience. When an encore presentation is factored in—FX sells against a four-run cume—Wilfred delivered 3.8 million total viewers and 2.4 million adults 18-49.

Leading out of Wilfred at 10:30 p.m., Louie C.K. took the stage for his second season of corrosive humor. Louie put together its best ratings performance to date, serving up 1.6 million viewers and 1 million adults 18-49, marking a 22 percent improvement from the show’s previous high-water mark (1.32 million, in the penultimate episode of season one).

With an encore, Louie posted 2.4 million total viewers, of which 1.6 million fell into the 18-49 camp.

Comedy Central countered with two back-to-back episodes of the resurrected Matt Groening series Futurama. Back for its seventh trek through the detritus of the 31st Century, the animated hit delivered 2.5 million viewers and a 1.1 18-49 rating at 10 p.m. and another 2.47 million/1.1 in the following half hour.

While all this was going on, ESPN was keeping pro hoops fans sated with its five-hour coverage of the NBA draft. The sports net scored its biggest deliveries for a draft in 15 years, averaging 3.2 million viewers from 7:30 p.m. to 12:15 a.m.

All told, Thursday was an extremely busy night across the dial. At 9 p.m., ABC premiered the Mark Burnett competition series, Expedition Impossible, to an audience of 7.05 million viewers, while notching a 2.3 rating/7 share in the demo.

Immediately following the Expedition Impossible premiere, ABC returned its summer cop drama, Rookie Blue, in its new 10 p.m. time slot. The sophomore season of Blue got off to a decent start, averaging 5.88 million viewers and a 1.6/5 in the demo. (When Blue bowed on June 24, 2010, it held down the 9 p.m. slot, leading out of a strong Wipeout. The series opener drew 7.2 million viewers and a 1.9 rating among adults 18-49.)