'Wives' bow sees ratings of a Lifetime

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Several cable networks were blessed Sunday night with strong ratings from a range of high-profile shows, including Lifetime Television's "Army Wives."

The female-targeted network recruited 3.5 million total viewers to the premiere of its new 10 p.m. drama series, according to Nielsen Media Research. That figure makes "Wives" the most-watched series premiere in the network's 23-year history and its biggest total-viewer delivery in the time slot since December.

The series, an ensemble drama starring Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell, also won its time slot in the key female demos of 18-49 (1.2 million viewers and a 2.1 rating, Lifetime's highest in the time period in more than three years). Among women 18-34, "Wives" gave Lifetime its biggest rating (1.8, 502,000) in the time period in five years.

"Wives" also built on its lead-in, the two-hour original movie "Write & Wrong," starring Kirstie Alley, which averaged 2.6 million viewers.

Previously, the most-watched series premieres on Lifetime were the dramas "Missing" (3.3 million viewers in 2003) and "The Division" (3.2 million in 2001).

Lifetime Networks president of entertainment Susanne Daniels said she was happy about the numbers and was quick to praise her staff, producers ABC Television Studio and the Mark Gordon Co. and marketers Bob Bibb and Lewis Goldstein for their work on the show. She added that she's looking to hand out new pilot orders this month with an eye toward a 2008 premiere for any that get picked up to series.

In other cable ratings news, the penultimate episode of HBO's "The Sopranos" at 9 p.m. Sunday averaged 8 million total viewers, up from last week's 7.7 million. The episode viewership ranks as the second-most-watched of the year behind the premiere episode of the second half of the series' sixth and final season, which drew 8.2 million April 8.

Factoring in multiple runs, "Sopranos" is averaging 11.7 million weekly viewers this year, off from the average 13 million viewers for the first half of the season.

After "Sopranos," the third-season finale of HBO's "Entourage" averaged 3.4 million at 10 p.m., on par with its previous performance for the year. (Fans won't have to wait long for new episodes of the show; the fourth season kicks off June 17.)

Meanwhile, the 2007 MTV Movie Awards, airing live for the first time at 8-10 p.m. Sunday, showed growth in total viewers and the network's key 12-34 demo compared with last year's telecast. The ceremony, hosted by Sarah Silverman, averaged 3.6 million total viewers, up 13% from last year. In 12-34, an average of 2.6 million viewers tuned in, up 10% over the 2006 show and topping all broadcast and cable programming for the night.

At FX, the recently renewed drama series "The Riches" had its first-season finale at 10 p.m. Monday. The episode averaged 1.8 million total viewers, which marks a steep drop of 54% from the series' premiere (3.8 million). In adults 18-49, "Riches" averaged 1 million viewers, less than half of the premiere (2.5 million). However, it should be noted that FX puts an emphasis on the cumulative numbers garnered over its series' multiple plays rather than single-episode figures.

Meanwhile, Food Network saw strong numbers Sunday for the third-season premiere of "The Next Food Network Star," which became the most-watched series premiere ever for the channel with an average of 4.7 million viewers, up 21% over Season 2's debut. The 9 p.m. episode also posted a 0.8 rating in adults 25-54, a 33% increase over the Season 2 premiere and a 100% increase over the year-ago time period.
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