USA tops '06 primetime cable

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It was a good year for USA Network.

The NBC Universal-owned channel finished 2006 as the No. 1 cable network in primetime across all key demos for the first time since 2000, according to Nielsen Media Research data ending Dec. 31. USA averaged 2.6 million total viewers for the year, 0.5 million in adults 18-34, 1.2 million in adults 18-49 and 1.2 million in adults 25-54.

USA attributed its success to such shows as "WWE Monday Night Raw," which returned to the network in October 2005; original series "Psych," which ranks as the year's No. 1 new cable series in adults 18-49 and adults 25-54; returning originals "Monk," "The 4400" and "The Dead Zone"; and acquisitions including theatrical "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" and series "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

Bonnie Hammer, president of USA Network and Sci Fi Channel, gave credit to her entire team for the network's 2006 performance.

"Original programming, marketing, communications, acquisitions, scheduling — everybody had the goal in mind to get the crown this year," she said. "Every single department and every single person contributed."

She added that it helped to have a set strategy that fell in line with the network's first-ever brand — "Characters Welcome" — which was put into place in 2005.

"We had a strategy as opposed to throwing things up against the wall and hoping they would stick," she said. "We had strong original programs, but it's also knowing how to block those programs (like developing 'Psych' as a companion show to 'Monk' and pairing those series up on Friday nights). … Everything was wrapped into 'Characters Welcome.' Everything made sense; nothing was a throwaway."

Ranking second in primetime among total viewers was Disney Channel (2.5 million) thanks to such movies as "High School Musical" and "The Cheetah Girls 2" and series like "Hannah Montana."

Coming in third was TNT (2.4 million), which continued to see strong numbers from original series "The Closer" as well as movies like "The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines."

ESPN, which saw big numbers in 2006 from the addition of the "Monday Night Football" telecasts of NFL games, came in at No. 4 with an average of 2.2 million, while TBS rounded out the top five with 1.6 million.

ESPN's "MNF" stands as the most-watched series in cable history, with telecasts dominating the top 10 cable programs of the year among total viewers and the key adult demos. The Oct. 23 matchup between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys was tops among total viewers with 16 million. That game also was the top program of the year among adults 18-34 (3.8 million), 18-49 (8.2 million) and 25-54 (8.4 million).

Meanwhile, in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos, TNT ranked No. 2 for the year among all cable networks, behind USA. ESPN rounded out the top three in both demos. The sports network also ranked as the No. 2 most-watched cable network in adults 18-34, followed by TBS.

In the kids arena, Nickelodeon swept the youth demos (kids 2-11, 6-11, 6-14 and 9-14) as well as total viewers in total-day ratings, followed by Disney Channel. Disney Channel dominated in primetime, taking the crown in the youth demos.
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