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September/October 2011 Cable Ratings Guide

Hey there! You might know me from the weekly Ratings Five-Spots here at SpoilerTV. The other thing I'll be bringing to the table here is something I started this summer over at my own blog, SpottedRatings.com: an epic monthly guide to cable TV ratings. As a ratings nerd, I am interested in primetime cable ratings, but I don't find them quite as fun on a day-to-day basis as the broadcast ratings. That's mostly because the rules are so different for cable; the cable networks don't even remotely fill the primetime schedule with original programs, so comparing timeslots is usually not nearly as interesting. Also, the standards for renewal are wildly different and tougher to discern network-by-network. So I prefer to do a really broad look at averages and year-to-year trends every month rather than assign much meaning to the day-to-day ratings.

I'll note that I mostly traffic in adults 18-49 ratings below. (That's always what I mean by "demo.") However, these should be taken with some grain of salt. I use A18-49 ratings because of availability and because they're a reasonable way of making comparisons across networks, but be advised that it is not necessarily the be-all-end-all number it is on broadcast. Not all of these networks target that demographic specifically.

For previous readers of the Cable Ratings Guide, see Part 1 of the September/October Guide, posted on my blog earlier today. It wraps up the summer seasons I covered in previous editions. For this SpoilerTV part, I'm just starting with fall shows. Here we go!

The Walking Dead (AMC): The 3.8 demo for season two's September 23 premiere was mind-blowingly high, a number that put it among the highest-rated dramas on all of TV, broadcast or cable. The 3.6 demo in week two was just stellar, since post-premiere drops are usually inevitable. But then, the show moved down another big chunk in week three to a 3.1 demo. At that level, it's still the biggest drama on cable, would be a solid broadcast drama and is still ahead of any rating from season one of Walking Dead. But it's still a big drop, and it leaves us with some lingering questions about where exactly this show will level off. The after-show Talking Dead, which has usually aired at 11:00 after the Walking Dead encore thus far, has averaged a 0.53 demo in its first three episodes.


Reed Between the Lines (BET): There was some understandable optimism about this show after its premiere night. It did have a big lead-in (The BET Awards), but it still impressed with a 1.6 demo in its 10:00 premiere and a solid 1.4 at 10:30. Since then... pretty meh. Of the six episodes that have aired since premiere night, five of them pulled a 0.5 demo rating, and the sixth got a 0.4. In other words, this show's only doing about a fourth of what their revival of The Game did in early 2011. I won't write this one off because I don't know what BET's standards are, but it looks like the search for another Game-sized hit will have to go elsewhere.

Tosh.0 (Comedy Central): It may be "just a clip show," but this clip show is one of the fall's demo powerhouses. Through seven episodes this fall, it's averaging a 1.74 demo. That's down 10% from the first seven of its winter 2011 run (there wasn't a comparable run of episodes last fall) but a little bit up from the first seven of summer 2011.

South Park (Comedy Central): Like Tosh.0, South Park is a powerhouse in Comedy Central's young male targets, and it's still got a long way to decline before it's not one. Also like Tosh.0, it's down by 10% from the corresponding episodes last year. It's averaging a 1.56 demo overall.

Monday Night Football (ESPN): Monday Night Football is relatively used to being the top 18-49 dog on Monday on either broadcast or cable, but the enormous season from CBS' Two and a Half Men-led block on Monday has prevented that from happening on several occasions. As with most sports, the matchups often make the rating; in nine games thus far, ratings have ranged from 4.0 (Baltimore/Jacksonville) all the way up to 7.2 (the Redskins and those Nielsen-happy Cowboys). Most of the other games have fallen in the mid-4's to mid-5's. Even if it's not always the night's top program, it's still a huge part of the Monday competitive picture.

Sons of Anarchy: After a bit of a third-year slump, Sons of Anarchy is back on the upswing in season four. Its 2.01 demo average through the first nine episodes is up a stout 21% from the first nine of season three, and this season is seriously threatening to be the biggest in the history of the show. The 2.5 demo for the premiere was a series high, and these nine episodes are tracking 4% ahead of the first nine of the previous strongest season (the second).

American Horror Story: Ryan Murphy's done it again. While Sons remains the strongest show on FX in the demo, it looks like American Horror Story is a pretty clear #2. It premiered to a 1.6 demo and over three million viewers on October 5, and in episode four it actually got up to a 1.7. It's averaged a 1.56 through its first five episodes. It's already gotten renewed for season two.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: I thought the syndication run on Comedy Central might help Sunny, and it definitely looks that way so far this season. The first eight episodes of 2011 are averaging a 1.10 demo, up a large 24% from the first eight of 2010 and also ahead of the show's previous strongest season in 2009.

The League: Also benefiting from the Sunny upswing is lead-out The League, whose 0.70 demo average is up 3% year-to-year through five episodes. That growth could well be larger next time, as the season premiere was down a couple tenths from the record-setting season two premiere, but it now seems to have settled at about a tenth higher than last fall.

Boardwalk Empire: Unlike some other shows like Modern Family and the AMC dramas, it doesn't look like Boardwalk Empire has been able to parlay awards show success into ratings success. Despite its eight Emmys, the 1.12 average for the first six episodes of Boardwalk is down 21% from the first six episodes of season one. That's a little inflated because Boardwalk premiered so strong last year (2.0 demo), but the show still seems to have settled down at a level even below the back half of season one. It's still an OK performer, and a third season renewal is secure. But it's clearly not making the leap toward True Blood territory, and I think HBO could've reasonably expected better.

Hung: As I said in a previous Ratings Five-Spot, this show is probably as good an example as there is of how much lead-ins can still matter these days. Hung aired its first two seasons after HBO's enormous hit True Blood and never rated lower than a 1.2 demo. Season three has aired after Boardwalk Empire (as said above, OK but definitely no True Blood) and never gotten higher than a 0.5! The 0.44 demo average for the first five episodes is down a pretty staggering 68% from summer 2010's first five!

How to Make it in America: HBO's microscopically-rated comedy How to Make it in America has also dropped a lot in season two, and it's also had a lead-in change. But the drop's not as big (its 0.25 average through five episodes is down "just" 25%) and the lead-in change also wasn't as big (it aired after Big Love, whose last season was only barely bigger than Hung is now).

Beavis and Butt-head (MTV): It looked like MTV's revival of the iconic '90s animated series was off to a fairly great start when Beavis and Butt-head got 3.3 million viewers and a 1.8 A18-49 rating on October 26. It came against Game 6 of the World Series, after all! But then came week two and a whooping 39% drop to a 1.1 demo. That's the blessing and curse of nostalgic programming; you're likely to have a large built-in audience on premiere night, but that audience is also less likely than usual to stick around. I feel like the week two numbers would still be fine for MTV, though, so let's see where it goes from here.

Good Vibes (MTV): MTV's hoping to use Beavis and Butt-head to get further into the animated game by launching newbie Good Vibes. It certainly didn't look so good for Vibes when the show got 1.6 million viewers and a 0.8 demo on October 26, retaining less than half of the Beavis audience. But the show held up better percentage-wise in week two than Beavis and Butt-head, dropping only about a quarter of its audience (1.2 million viewers and a 0.6 demo).

Dexter (Showtime): Season six of Dexter started out really well; the 2.2 million viewers and 1.1 demo were easily the show's highest ever for a premiere (and within striking distance of overall series highs). But unlike previous Dexter seasons, this one hasn't picked up steam since the premiere, dropping down into the general vicinity of an 0.8 in its four episodes since. Overall, the 0.88 demo average is up by 2% from the first five episodes of fall 2010.

Homeland (Showtime): Showtime reported that Homeland's 1.08 million viewers and 0.4 demo marked the largest Showtime premiere since Dead Like Me. I would argue that what it's done since the premiere has been even more impressive, as it's held up completely despite Dexter dipping (sometimes in a big way) from the aforementioned 1.1 demo premiere. While it's been stuck on that 0.4 demo for each of its first five episodes, the total viewership has gotten as high as 1.28 million viewers for the October 30 episode.

Tyler Perry's House of Payne (TBS): For about four years, Wednesday night was the home base for TBS' Tyler Perry comedies. But as the ultra-prolific House of Payne finally nears its end, TBS has shipped it off to Friday night. As is true of almost all shows, House of Payne has taken a hit in its move to Friday, posting just a 0.4 and 0.5 demo for its Friday premiere episodes on October 21 (granted, they came against Game 7 of the World Series). It did perk up to an 0.6 for each of its October 28 episodes, but that's still down a good bit from the 0.8ish it usually got in its last original run on Wednesday.

WWE Friday Night Smackdown! (Syfy): This wrestling franchise has been shuffled across quite a few networks in recent years. When it first arrived on Syfy in fall 2010, it appeared to be at a lower ratings level than in its previous homes. Things got most grim over the summer when the show actually posted a mere 0.6 demo on a couple occasions. But over the last couple months, it seems Smackdown! has turned things around on some level. It even pushes through the 3 million viewer and 1.0 demo thresholds somewhat frequently (something it never did in its first 3+ months on Syfy). Its 0.92 demo average over the last five weeks is up by a solid 18% over the year-ago five weeks (which were the show's first five weeks on Syfy).

Sanctuary (Syfy): After a rather ill-fated turn on Monday, Syfy has moved veteran drama Sanctuary back to Friday. It's averaged a 0.43 demo in its first four episodes, down just barely from the 0.45 average of its first four Friday episodes last fall. Syfy has seemed satisfied with the show's 0.4ish Friday performance over the last couple years, though Haven (0.52 average) did a little better in the same timeslot this summer.

WWE Raw: With most of USA's dramas on the decline of late, USA's wrestling franchise is now pretty decidedly its strongest original program in 18-49. It also handily outshines its Syfy WWE counterpart. It's been in the general 1.6 to 1.7 vicinity for about the last four months.

Covert Affairs: Covert Affairs moved into the regular season fray for the first time last Tuesday. It posted series lows with 2.7 million viewers and a 1.0 demo. Not that these are totally fair comparisons, but that's down by two tenths from last summer's premiere and down by almost 20% from last summer's average. USA dramas in the regular season have fairly mixed results. Summer-themed Royal Pains lost nearly a third of its demo from the previous summer when it aired last winter, but White Collar has held up almost completely in a regular season environment. Still early, but it looks right now like Covert Affairs is somewhere in the middle.

Psych: One show that has a lot of experience airing in the regular season is USA's Psych, and it once again seems to be holding up better than some of its counterparts. Its 1.05 demo average through four episodes this fall is down by 5% from the first four of last fall. I feel like this show's merely decent ratings have been forgotten a little as shows like Burn Notice and Covert Affairs have soared over the last few years, but its 1.1 demo this Wednesday actually slightly outrated the fall returns of Burn and Covert!

Burn Notice: Burn Notice has traditionally been one of those shows that held up pretty well in the regular season, but its 2.86 million viewers and 1.0 demo on Thursday were series lows. Those are both down huge - about a third - from last fall's premiere numbers. I don't think this is so much a "holding up in the regular season" issue as it is a "show getting older in general" issue. Burn Notice's numbers were tailing off toward the end of the summer as well. This once-huge show is just past its prime at this point, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see it grow a bit from the 1.0 as people realize it's back.

For more in-depth TV ratings coverage every day, check out my blog at SpottedRatings.com or follow me on Twitter: @spotupj.

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