'Spartacus' bucking cable ratings trend

Starz's "Spartacus," left, HBO's "The Pacific" and AMC's "Breaking Bad"

Audience for Starz series is growing; other shows dropping

Several of cable's big-ticket midseason shows are getting a lukewarm response from viewers, but there's at least one new series demonstrating growth potential.

Among the current field of major scripted projects on cable -- including Syfy's "Caprica," AMC's "Breaking Bad" and TNT's "Southland" -- it's the ratings for Starz's "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" that buck the trend. Though the drama has a modest audience base compared to other cable hits, "Spartacus" has grown nearly substantially since its January debut.

"Spartacus" opened at a mere 659,000 viewers and has since expanded its army of viewers to recently hit 1.3 million -- a 97% increase during the course of its season. This is particularly impressive since Starz, unlike its grown-up rivals HBO and Showtime, is a fledgling entrant into scripted programming.

A second season of "Spartacus" has been ordered, though the show's production is on hiatus as star Andy Whitfield is undergoing treatment for cancer.

On HBO, the $250 million "Band of Brothers" follow-up "The Pacific" continues to generate disappointing premiere numbers followed by substantially larger catch-up viewership. The series opened to 3.1 million viewers, far below "Brothers," while the total gross audience for that first episode is now up to 9.1 million once you factor repeat airings and On Demand viewing. The miniseries also has managed to demonstrate stability week-to-week, pulling 2.8 million viewers for episodes 2 and 3, though the recent Easter weekend episode dipped as expected to 2.5 million.

Three weeks since their premieres, AMC's "Breaking Bad," FX's "Justified" and Showtime comedies "Nurse Jackie" and "United States of Tara" have experienced drops to varying degrees. A certain amount of post-premiere settling is normal, though this trio has fallen quicker than networks prefer.

The "Breaking Bad" premiere pulled a healthy 2 million viewers, but subsequent episodes fell 25% to 1.5 million and then 13% to 1.3 million.

It's a similar story for "Justified," which burst out of the gate with a towering premiere, 4.2 million viewers, then sunk 16% to 3.5 million and then 34% to 2.3 million.

The critically acclaimed "Jackie" and "Tara" have taken a tumble. "Jackie" went from a strong premiere of 1.1 million viewers to 700,000 (down 36%) and then dropped 25% on Monday to 525,000. The sophomore debut of "Tara" drew 816,000 and likewise fell 37% to 511,000 and then slipped 19% to 414,000. Keep in mind, however, that Showtime's On Demand numbers aren't in yet and "Jackie" is Showtime's most-watched show on that platform.

Just to show that early drops in a season don't always indicate a dire trend, Syfy's "Caprica" ratings fell for each of its first four hours, but after nine episodes the series has stabilized in recent weeks, down 25% from its debut at about 1.2 million viewers. That's pretty lightweight for a Syfy scripted original series, though Syfy says the show gains an additional 50% from DVR use.

TNT's "Southland" has likewise found its footing, though at a level that's below the network's average for a scripted drama. The NBC emigree pulls 2.2 million viewers, lower than where the disappointing "Men of Certain Age" concluded its run. "Southland" is considered on the bubble for renewal.

Finally, not all recent headiine-drawing cable projects have been scripted: Discovery's "Life" made a big splash, with its premiere pulling 6 million viewers, more than predecessor "Planet Earth." The second week dipped 12% to a still-huge 5.3 million. Sunday's epsiode fell 36% to 3.4 million but gets a pass since it was a holiday.

Got tips on TV industry news? Contact TV Editor James Hibberd at james.hibberd@thr.com.
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