'Closer' has record opening

TNT series notches 'b'cast' numbers

TNT's "The Closer" opened to big numbers for its third-season premiere Monday night.

The drama series, starring Kyra Sedgwick, averaged more than 8.8 million total viewers at 9 p.m., breaking its own record set with last year's Season 2 premiere as basic cable's most-watched series telecast ever, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The Season 3 opener, which premiered commercial-free and uninterrupted thanks to Toyota, was up 6% over last season's premiere (8.3 million) in total viewers and also grew 11% in the adults 18-49 demo (2.9 million vs. 2.6 million) and 6% in adults 25-54 (3.8 million vs. 3.6 million). It also beat all broadcast programming in its time period in total viewers Monday night.

Following "Closer" at 10 p.m. was the new drama "Heartland," which averaged 4.3 million viewers, slightly less than half its lead-in. "Heartland," set in the world of organ donors and starring Treat Williams and Kari Matchett as a recently divorced couple, still ranked as basic cable's No. 2 new original series for the year. The drama also averaged 1.2 million in 18-49 and 1.6 million in 25-54.

Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin, who oversees TNT, said he was thrilled with the numbers for "Closer."

"With DVRs and all those kinds of things eroding a lot of ratings, to get this kind of number, where a lot of people wanted to watch as it happened ... is a big testament to the quality of the show," he said. "These are significant, broadcast (comparable) numbers."

He said he believes that the marketing and PR efforts, Sedgwick's promotional appearances and word-of-mouth also helped boost the series' numbers.

As for "Heartland," Koonin noted that it was up against broadcast competition like NBC's "Dateline," the top program of the night, which featured exclusive interviews with Princes William and Harry.

"With the competition, we're very pleased with 'Heartland,' and we think as the show continues, it will get better and better ratings," he said.

Lifetime executive vp research Tim Brooks said such cable shows as "Closer" and his network's "Army Wives" are finding big audiences in part because more and more viewers are turning to cable networks for original programming in the summer. Final numbers for Episode 3 of "Army Wives," which grew in its third week, show that the series was the No. 1 basic cable program in primetime Sunday among women 18-49 (1.3 million), women 25-54 (1.4 million) and total viewers (3.8 million).

"Originally in the 1990s, there were just a few things here and there on cable," he said. "But when the cable networks started ramping up their original production and looking for the best time of the year to premiere shows, they realized that summer was the golden time to get viewers" because broadcast networks were airing repeats.

He noted that the broadcasters have more recently been "fighting back" by airing new episodes primarily of reality series during the summer but that cable's share of the TV audience has been increasing during the summer months. Lifetime is launching two more new dramas -- "Side Order of Life" and "State of Mind" -- next month.

Elsewhere in cable ratings news, HBO saw some viewer drop-offs for a few of its series, including the new show "John From Cincinnati," which fared poorly in its second week. The second episode of the surf-noir drama averaged 1.2 million viewers at 9 p.m., meaning that it lost nearly two-thirds of its viewership from last week's episode (3.4 million), which followed the series finale of "The Sopranos."

Following "John," HBO's "Entourage" had its fourth-season bow at 10 p.m., averaging 2.2 million. That's off from the 3.4 million the third-season finale averaged just two weeks earlier.

At 10:30 p.m., the new series "Flight of the Conchords" bowed on HBO. The show, starring the New Zealand music-comedy duo of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, averaged 1.2 million, keeping 55% of its lead-in audience.

On Monday night, the second episode of Season 2 of HBO's drama "Big Love" averaged 1.5 million at 9 p.m., down from last week's 2.2 million.

Elsewhere, the Friday episode of Discovery Channel's "Man vs. Wild" at 9 p.m. averaged nearly 2 million viewers, making it the most-watched episode ever for the series, which debuted in November. It also was the No. 2 basic cable program of the night among men 18-49 and men 25-54.

At VH1, the fifth-season finale of "Celebrity Fit Club" averaged 2.7 million viewers at 9 p.m., the most in the series' history. A clip show of "Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School" at 10 p.m. averaged 2.6 million viewers.

Showtime's new series "Meadowlands" drew 184,000 viewers at 10 p.m. Sunday.