VMAs skip to the beat

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The MTV Video Music Awards had a huge night Sunday, while HBO's vampire drama "True Blood" got off to a modest start.

The VMAs averaged 8.4 million total viewers from 9-11:20 p.m., making it cable's No. 3- most-watched program of the week ending Sept. 7 behind Fox News Channel's coverage of speeches by John McCain (9.2 million) and Sarah Palin (9 million) at the Republican National Convention. The VMAs also were up significantly from last year's telecast (7.1 million).

"Blood" averaged 1.4 million total viewers at 9 p.m. Sunday, up from HBO's most recent series premiere, "Tell Me You Love Me," a year ago (910,000) but down from "John From Cincinnati's" bow (3.4 million) in June 2007. However, "John" had the series finale of "The Sopranos" (11.9 million) as its lead-in, while "Blood" led out of an hour's worth of specials promoting the show. A "Blood" repeat at 10:30 p.m. averaged another 672,000 viewers for a total of 2.1 million.

"Blood" also didn't match other recent drama series debuts on HBO, including "Big Love" in March 2006 (4.6 million), "Rome" in August 2005 (4.6 million) and "Deadwood" in March 2004 (5.8 million). But HBO executive vp program planning Dave Baldwin said execs were happy with "Blood's" numbers, pointing out that more viewers are time-shifting their programs through DVRs now than a few years ago. He expects "Blood's" viewership to more than double at week's end when factoring in all airings and DVR data.

Leading out of "Blood," "Entourage's" fifth-season premiere built on those numbers, averaging 1.6 million viewers, but was off from its June 2007 Season 4 bow (2.2 million).

Elsewhere, the second episode of TNT's "Raising the Bar" averaged 5 million viewers, following last week's record-breaking debut (7.7 million).

The opening "Monday Night Football Game" of the NFL regular season, which featured Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers' first start in place of Brett Favre, averaged 12.5 million viewers for ESPN, making it the most-watched program on cable in 2008. It beat everything else on TV, including the season premiere of Fox's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles." (partialdiff)
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