USA Network holds off TNT for top slot

"iCarly" episode draws 4.52 million viewers

USA Network held off a charge by TNT to keep its ratings streak alive, averaging 3.18 million total viewers for the week ended April 26, topping the Turner net by a margin of just over a quarter-million people (254,000).

TNT averaged 2.93 million viewers, returning to the #2 spot for the first time in 10 weeks. More importantly, TNT swept all three major demos, averaging 1.57 million viewers 18-49, 1.52 million adults 25-54 and 821,000 18-34s.

The network's coverage of the opening round of the NBA playoffs gave it a huge lift, as five games were among the 50 most-watched shows on ad-supported cable last week. TNT drew 3.82 million viewers April 23 with game three of the Lakers-Jazz series, while game two of the Celtics-Bulls showdown delivered 3.76 million viewers on Monday night.

On Tuesday night, LeBron James rang up 29 points and 13 rebounds as the Cavaliers took a two-game lead over the Pistons in front of a national TV audience of 3.7 million viewers.

TNT's roundball coverage helped knock Fox News Channel into third place, marking the first time the news net has fallen out of second place since the week of Feb. 16, per Nielsen ratings data. FNC closed out the week with an average delivery of 2.27 million viewers, 547,000 of which were members of the core 25-54 demo.

A five-hour NFL draft marathon and game three of the season's first Yankees-Red Sox encounter gave ESPN fourth place, as the sports net averaged 1.83 million viewers. NFL analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., on Saturday afternoon delivered a captive audience of 5.06 million pigskin fans, of which 2.99 million were viewers 18-49. Another 2.82 million adults 25-54 tuned in for ESPN's draft-day coverage (4 p.m. through 9 p.m.).

The following night saw the Sox sweep the Yankees at Fenway Park in front of a national TV audience of 4.6 million fans. ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball telecast delivered 2.19 million 18-49s and 2.21 million 25-54s.

Nickelodeon/Nick-at-Nite squeaked past TBS by a margin of around 6,000 viewers, claiming fifth place on the week with an average delivery of 1.63 million viewers. As in weeks past, the kids' net drew a crowd with a new Wednesday-night installment of "iCarly" (4.52 million viewers).

While USA dropped to second place among the older demos, averaging 1.39 million 25-54s and 1.32 million 18-49s, the network boasted three of the week's most-watched program on ad-supported cable. "WWE Raw" averaged 5.3 million viewers Monday night (9 p.m.-10:07 p.m.), while a repeat episode of "NCIS" served up 4.33 million viewers in the 7 p.m. slot.

A new installment of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" scared up 4.1 million viewers Sunday night, as actor Jeff Goldblum made his debut as Wheeler's new partner, Det. Zack Nichols. Lead-out "In Plain Sight" delivered 3.97 million viewers in the 10 p.m. time slot, down 22% versus the April 19 season-two premiere, which averaged 5.11 million viewers.



Among the 18-49 set, the top 10 programs on ad-supported cable last week were: the NFL draft; VH1's "For the Love of Ray J" (2.86 million); Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" (2.59 million); "WWE Raw" (2.58 million); game three of the Lakers-Jazz series (2.31 million); ESPN's Yanks-Sox match-up (2.19 million); Lakers-Jazz game two (2.12 million); game two of the Cavs-Pistons series (2.11 million) and the second meeting in the best-of-seven series between the Celtics and Bulls (2.11 million).

Non-ad-supported Disney Channel remained in third place among all basic-cable nets, averaging 2.36 million viewers, thanks in part to the original movie "Hatching Pete." The 100-minute comedy drew 4.14 million viewers Friday night.

The month of April was a mixed bag, as seven nets endured double-digit declines in prime-time, offsetting double-digit increases at a dozen ad-supported cable nets.

USA won its fourth straight month, growing 11% year-over-year with an average delivery of 3.08 million total viewers. Fox News Channel was up 43% versus April 2008, averaging 2.36 million viewers, while TNT fell 12% to 1.99 million viewers.

TBS dipped 2% (1.76 million), while Nickelodeon/Nick-at-Nite declined 3% to 1.66 million. Closing out April's top 10 were: ESPN (down 9% to 1.52 million); A&E (up 9% to 1.34 million); Discovery Channel (off 1% to 1.31 million); FX (up 10% to 1.27 million) and Sci Fi Channel (up 3% to 1.23 million).

Disney closed out the month third among all basic-cable nets, averaging just shy of 2.3 million total viewers.

On a percentage basis, the month's biggest growers were: Headline News (up 45% to 618,000 viewers); MSNBC (up 37% to 829,000); TV Land (up 32% to 858,000); BET (up 29% to 728,000); Lifetime Movie Network (up 23% to 713,000); National Geographic Channel (up 21% to 445,000); Food Network (up 18% to 1.02 million) and Animal Planet (up 11% to 565,000).

April's most prominent backsliders include Spike TV, which fell 37% versus a year ago, averaging 1.12 million viewers. Spike last April averaged 1.77 million viewers in prime, thanks in large part to its second Star Wars marathon, which drew huge numbers for the Viacom net.

Also dropping were Lifetime, which was off 25% versus April 2008, averaging 1.14 million viewers, and MTV, down 12% to 841,000. With an average nightly delivery of 970,000 viewers, AMC dropped 11% year-over-year; also falling 11% was E!, which drew 502,000 prime-time viewers in April. ABC Family lost 10% of its nightly audience, averaging 1.09 million viewers, down from 1.22 million a year ago.
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