ABC Family locks up weekend cable

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Three cable networks saw solid returns from original holiday movies during the weekend, with ABC Family's "Holiday in Handcuffs" leading the pack with nearly 7 million viewers tuning in.

Meanwhile, initial projections are showing that Disney Channel and USA Network are in a tight race for this year's total-viewers crown among basic cable networks, while USA is leading TBS in the key demo of adults 18-49.

"Handcuffs" averaged 6.7 million total viewers from 8-10 p.m. Sunday, making it ABC Family's most-watched telecast ever, according to Nielsen Media Research. The movie, starring Mario Lopez and Melissa Joan Hart, also set network records in key demos, including adults 18-49 (3.2 million viewers), adults 18-34 (1.6 million), women 18-49 (2.1 million) and women 18-34 (1.1 million) and ranked as Sunday's No. 1 cable telecast in those demos. The movie peaked in its final quarter-hour with 7.8 million viewers.

For the week, "Handcuffs" was the second-most-watched cable telecast behind ESPN's record-breaking "Monday Night Football" telecast.

Lifetime and Hallmark Channel also got good news with their original holiday movies. Lifetime's "Lost Holiday: The Jim and Suzanne Shemwell Story," starring Jami Gertz and Dylan Walsh, averaged 3.6 million viewers 9-11 p.m. Sunday. Before "Lost Holiday," a 7 p.m. airing of the Rob Lowe/Kimberly Williams-Paisley telefilm "The Christmas Shoes" averaged 3.9 million viewers, becoming Lifetime's most-watched weekend movie of the year.

Meanwhile, Hallmark Channel's "The Note," starring Genie Francis and Ted McGinley, averaged 3.9 million viewers in its debut at 9-11 p.m. Saturday. "The Note" stands as Hallmark's third-most-watched original movie premiere ever.

Elsewhere in cable ratings news:



-- MTV's "The Hills" went out with a bang, drawing 4.7 million viewers to what was originally scheduled to be its third-season finale at 10 p.m. Monday. (The network has ordered eight new episodes to air beginning in the first quarter.) The episode also drew 3.5 million adults 18-49 and 3.8 million viewers ages 12-34. This season's 18 episodes averaged 3.9 million viewers.

-- The premiere of A&E's original series "Paranormal State" at 10 p.m. Monday became the network's most-watched series premiere since "Dog the Bounty Hunter" in August 2004. "State" averaged 2.5 million total viewers, 1.6 million adults 18-49 and 1.5 million adults 25-54. In addition, the 9 p.m. episode of "Intervention" was the most-watched episode of the A&E series, averaging 2.4 million total viewers, 1.6 million adults 18-49 and 1.5 million adults 25-54. The premiere episode of "State" and the new episode of "Intervention" tied for A&E's top delivery among all original telecasts for 2007 in 18-49.

-- CNN's "Heroes" awards telecast didn't do much to help the network in the ratings, with the three-hour special averaging only 567,000 viewers on Thursday and then coming in fourth place among cable newsers in repeats Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

-- NFL Network averaged 3.9 million viewers for its telecast of the Chicago Bears-Washington Redskins game Thursday night. It was the second-most-watched cable program of the night, behind USA's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Season-to-date, NFL Network's Thursday and Sunday football game telecasts are averaging 5.9 million viewers, up 90% from the same period a year ago (3.1 million).

-- At E! Entertainment Television, the Season 4 premiere of "The Girls Next Door" at 10 p.m. Sunday and the debut of new series "Snoop Dogg's Father Hood" at 10:30 p.m. each averaged about 1.9 million total viewers.

-- USA's special celebrating the 15th anniversary of World Wrestling Entertainment's "Raw" averaged 5.8 million viewers Monday night. It's the most-watched three-hour "Raw" special to date.

Overall in the 2007 cable viewership race, Disney Channel is leading all basic cable networks in primetime with an average of 2.7 million viewers, while USA is close behind with 2.67 million. Disney Channel had held the record for most-watched cable telecast ever, thanks to this year's "High School Musical 2" premiere (17.2 million), until ESPN's "MNF" (17.5 million) edged it out last week.

In the key adult demos, USA is leading the pack, beating closest competitor TBS in 18-49 (1.2 million vs. 1 million) and in 18-34 (558,000 vs. 541,000). USA also is leading in 25-54, followed by TNT (1.2 million vs. 1 million).

USA's lead in the demo races is spurred by "Burn Notice" and "The Starter Wife," the top new original cable series for the year among 18-49 and 25-54. USA also has five of cable's top 10 original scripted series for the year in both demos, including "Monk," "Psych" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" as well as "Wife" and "Burn."

Paul J. Gough in New York contributed to this report.
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