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December 2011 Cable Ratings Guide

I'm back with another of my extensive looks at the cable TV landscape! This time around, we're mostly wrapping up fall seasons that ended in December, so the next edition in five weeks will have quite a bit of new blood.

My monthly disclaimer: 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. I'm covering 27 shows on 13 networks this time, but this is still far from a complete look at cable originals, so let me know if you have a favorite you'd like on this list. Here we go!

Hell on Wheels (AMC): This show has been yet another lesson on the effect the lead-in still has in today's TV ratings. Hell on Wheels never went lower than a 1.2 demo in its first four episodes after The Walking Dead, but in three episodes since the end of Dead's season it's gone just 0.8 -> 0.6 -> 0.6. As I said in a previous Ratings Five-Spot, that's a big drop, but it's still not a flop for AMC. The Killing got similar ratings and was renewed, and now Hell on Wheels has also gotten a renewal.

Reed Between the Lines (BET): Every single episode of Reed Between the Lines since last month's update has gotten either a 0.4 or 0.5 demo. The 24-episode season finished with a 0.55 average, still a little inflated by its big premiere numbers. There's been no announcement on its fate, and it's tough to come up with a point of reference for a network that's had so little scripted programming. It's definitely been a lot weaker than either their revival of The Game or its lead-out Let's Stay Together, but who knows what BET's standards are when a show has no significant lead-in?

Monday Night Football (ESPN): The season's two lowest-rated Monday Night Football games both came in December thanks to the Chargers/Jaguars (3.8 demo) and the Rams/Seahawks (3.7). Those helped drag the season average down to a 5.38 demo, down about 8% from last fall's average.

Sons of Anarchy: Just touching base quickly since we had all but the finale numbers last month. Sons of Anarchy finished season four 2.04 demo average is up a whooping 22% from the full season three average.

American Horror Story: American Horror Story had a bit of a weak outing in its penultimate episode on December 14 (1.4), but overall it remained a very consistent show and closed season one with a 1.60 demo average. Normally there wouldn't be a lot of ratings anxiety for season two coming off such a solid year, but the show's announced overhaul of setting and characters throws a potential wrench in season two.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The back half of the season was weaker than the front half for Sunny, probably thanks in large part to the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football airing on the night. The show ended up averaging a 1.01 demo for the season, up a solid 13% from last fall.

The League: The League actually held up better in December than Sunny, continuing to post above-average 0.7's up through its penultimate week on December 15. The December 22 two-episode finale dropped to 0.6 and 0.5 thanks to no Sunny lead-in, but the season as a whole averaged a 0.65 demo, up by 7% from last fall.

Boardwalk Empire: The last couple episodes of Boardwalk Empire's second season rose from its typical 1.0/1.1 level up to a 1.3 demo. That left the full second season average at a 1.13 demo, still down 16% from last year, but the last couple episodes were actually even or up from the tail end of season one.

Hung: Since last we spoke, low-rated Hung joined even-lower-rated How to Make it In America and Bored to Death in the cancellation pile. Its series finale on December 4 pulled another underwhelming 0.4 demo, capping off a 0.44 demo average season that was down a whooping 67% from the True Blood-fueled season two.

Teen Mom 2 (MTV): One of the few notable shows that actually premiered since the last edition was MTV's huge Teen Mom 2, which went 2.4 -> 2.0 -> 1.8 -> 1.9 in its first four airings. That's down about 4% from the franchise's first four airings last January.

Beavis and Butt-head (MTV): You can't feel too good about the trajectory for MTV's Beavis and Butt-head revival. It premiered to a great 1.8 demo against the World Series on October 27, then dropped to around a 1.0 for the next several weeks, then trickled down to 0.8 for a couple weeks, 0.7 for a week, and then an 0.5 for its last couple weeks. Overall, it adds up to a 0.89 demo average, but in evaluating the show, you have to feel like that's a lot higher than what you'll get from the show in the future. No official average on Good Vibes, whose ratings I stopped seeing late in the season, but it appeared to be following Beavis down the drain, and I doubt it'll be back.

Thursday Night Football (NFL Network): Like Monday Night Football, the NFL Network's Thursday night edition did not put its best foot forward down the stretch of the season. The last two airings (Jaguars/Falcons and Texans/Colts) each posted a 1.6 demo, capping off a season that averaged a 2.49 demo overall in seven airings.

Dexter (Showtime): All told, season six of Dexter ended up with an almost identical average to season five; the 0.93 average was down less than 1%. The trajectory was a little different. While the fall 2010 season started low and built throughout, this fall's run started solidly (1.1 demo), ended pretty solidly (1.0) and was mostly solid in the middle. It was renewed in November for two more seasons.

Homeland (Showtime): The ascent of Homeland continued in December, as the show's last two episodes posted a 0.5 demo and, then, outright series highs with 1.705 million total viewers and a 0.7 demo for its December 18 finale. The season overall averaged a 0.47 demo, almost identical to the opening season of their other recent entry Shameless.

WWE Friday Night Smackdown! (Syfy): Smackdown has mostly stayed in the same 0.9 to 1.0 range lately. It's now averaging a 0.94 demo over the last three months, up by an impressive 20% over the year-ago period (the opening three months on Syfy).

Sanctuary (Syfy): Almost every week, Sanctuary turns in another 0.4 demo. Its twelve episodes to date have two 0.5's, two 0.3's and eight 0.4's, good for an exactly 0.40 average. With last Friday's finale ratings still pending, it's down about 7% from the fall 2010 run.

Tyler Perry's House of Payne (TBS): Since the huge 1.0+ demos House of Payne got on For Better or Worse premiere night, the show has dropped back to its typical 0.6ish Friday level. Eighteen Friday episodes this fall have averaged a 0.64 demo.

For Better or Worse (TBS): After getting really impressive 1.4 demos on the show's night-after-Thanksgiving premiere, For Better Or Worse dropped big in week two to a 0.9 demo. But it seems to have stabilized at around a 0.9 since then. Its ten-episode run averaged a 1.01 demo. The show did a little worse than the opening runs of House of Payne and Meet the Browns, but considering it was Friday and considering how much the show jumped from its House of Payne lead-in, I wouldn't be surprised to see it get the huge pickup for syndication that those other two have gotten.

The Closer: It wasn't looking good for The Closer's winter season at the beginning, with the first two episodes posting just 0.9 and 0.8 demos. But the show perked up to a 1.0 -> 1.0 -> 1.1 in its last three. Nice recovery adding up to a 0.96 demo average, but it was still down 8% from the winter run.

Rizzoli & Isles: Aside from premiere night (when it got an 0.8), Rizzoli & Isles matched The Closer episode-by-episode during its five-week regular season run. Its 0.94 demo average was weaker than anything it'd done in the summer, but as with The Closer, it was a nice recovery from a discouraging start.

Leverage: TNT's caper drama has gotten a much longer-term run in the regular season than it did last year (when it got a 0.5, 0.7, 0.7 in its three episodes). It's already aired six episodes this winter, and another two are still to come. After a 0.7 on premiere night, it's posted a 0.6 in each of its four Sundays since (including an incredibly rare airing on Christmas night!). That adds up to a 0.62 average.

Hot in Cleveland (TV Land): As I've chronicled in past editions, it's been a struggle for TV Land's Hot in Cleveland. The 0.36 average through five episodes this winter is down a huge 40% from the first five airings of last winter.

The Exes (TV Land): But nobody's gonna start talking about getting rid of Hot in Cleveland because TV Land still can't find anything that does better. The Exes is typically dropping a tick from its Cleveland lead-in and is averaging just a 0.28 demo through five episodes. We don't yet know exactly what it'd take for TV Land to cancel a sitcom, but this is the network's weakest sitcom start in the Hot in Cleveland era.

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 averaged a 1.61 demo in December, down a little bit from the November numbers and from what it was doing at this time last year.

Covert Affairs: It wasn't a great fall for Covert Affairs, but it did make a recovery late with its November 29 spike to a 1.0 demo, and it maintained that for the December 6 finale. That added up to a 0.87 demo average in its first regular season run, making it the weakest of USA's fall dramas.

Psych: Following its season high 1.2 when last we spoke, Psych closed its season with a more-or-less average 1.0 and 1.1 demo in its last two weeks. That left the show with a 1.03 average, down 1% from the 1.04 average of last fall's seven-episode run.

Burn Notice: Like the other two USA dramas, Burn Notice had a big spike in the week after Thanksgiving. And like Psych, Burn Notice came back to earth a bit, hitting an identical 1.0 and 1.1 in the last two weeks. But Burn Notice is supposed to be stronger than that. The show averaged a 1.02 demo this fall, down a big 30% from the fall run last year.

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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