USA returns as king of cable

Net retakes top spot in primetime viewership race from Dis Channel

USA Network has regained its crown as the year's most-watched basic cable channel, while football and election coverage dominated the top of the programming chart.

USA has averaged 2.8 million viewers year-to-date in primetime, edging out last year's winner, Disney Channel, by about 463,000 viewers.

USA, the 2006 champ, was boosted by shows like the veteran series "Monk," which averaged 7.6 million viewers per first-run episode, while Disney boasted hits including the TV movie "Camp Rock" (10.1 million), which ranks as the year's most-watched entertainment program.

Election coverage helped boost Fox News Channel to the No. 4 berth this year after landing at No. 7 in 2007. TNT remained at No. 3, while ESPN fell a spot to No. 5. Falling out of the top five was TBS, which dropped a spot to No. 6.

Ranking as the year's most-watched basic cable telecast was ESPN's Monday night coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles-Dallas Cowboys NFL game Sept. 15 (18.6 million). In fact, NFL games on ESPN accounted for 13 of the year's top 20 telecasts.

Coverage of the presidential election also had a big presence in the top 20, with CNN's Election Night programming taking No. 2 (15.2 million) and four other spots, while Fox News' coverage of the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate (11.1 million) landed at No. 17.

The only non-NFL or -election coverage ranking in the top 20 was TBS' coverage of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays on Oct. 19. The game came in at No. 4 with 13.3 million viewers.

Meanwhile, USA also reigned in the adults 18-49 demo, averaging 1.3 million in primetime, followed by TBS (1.1 million), ESPN (1.02 million), TNT (1.01 million) and FX (712,000). That's nearly the same as last year, with the exception of TNT and ESPN swapping places.

In the younger demos, Disney won in primetime among kids 2-11 (1.3 million), kids 6-11 (1 million) and tweens 9-14 (842,000), while Nickelodeon won in total-day (1.2 million, 674,000 and 498,000, respectively). (partialdiff)