If the writers' strike disrupts broadcast network viewing soon, there's a good chance that more viewers will check out cable offerings. So it is a good time to explain what cable programs excite Western New Yorkers.
The area remains a very strong market for prime time programs carried on the local broadcast network affiliates here. The audience for them far exceeds the audience for noncommercial, pay-cable series (which don't have as many subscribers) and commercial basic cable shows.
The ratings for pay-cable shows are so low that it is more beneficial to explain how many households are watching.
In Western New York, there are 637,000 TV households, meaning each rating point equals about 6,370 households. In years past, it has been difficult to get cable figures, but Jon May, the new research specialist for Time Warner locally, graciously supplied them.
Many critically acclaimed series on Showtime are especially underappreciated here. That's partly because it has fewer subscribers than HBO.
HBO's "The Sopranos" was the most popular pay cable show locally, followed by "Big Love." TNT's "The Closer" is the most popular entertainment series on basic cable.
Of course, cable does things differently than broadcast TV. The largest rating generally is for the premiere of an episode. Basic cable and pay-cable shows air multiple times during the week. The pay-services and some basic channels also now have On Demand features that allow viewers to watch whenever they want. The figures in this story reflect live and DVR viewing within seven days only.
All of the Showtime series combined didn't get anywhere near the 45,287 households that HBO's "The Sopranos" averaged for the first viewing of an original episode in its final season. The final "Sopranos" episode had a 9.2 rating, reaching 59,047 households.
Now that "The Sopranos" is gone, the HBO series getting the most viewers is "Big Love," which averaged 8,943 households for the time slot premiere of each episode in its second season. Better yet, its viewership increased significantly for the final five episodes of the season. No. 2 may be a shocker to some. It is the late-night series, "Real Sex" (6,505 households per airing).
Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" attracted 9,662 households for two airings of each episode. "Flight of the Conchords" averaged 7,232 households for two airings. The good news for "Flight" -- which has been renewed -- is its audience increased as the season went on. "Tell Me That You Love Me," the provocative HBO series about marriage, attracted 8,018 households for two airings of an episode but the trend was down big time. It had 13,000 households for two airings of its first episode and 3,400 households for its last episode.
With the help of the lead-in from the final episode of "The Sopranos," the premiere of David Milch's "John From Cincinnati" attracted 15,740 households. By the end of its 10-episode run, the first run of each episode attracted 5,493 households. HBO canceled it. It wasn't only because viewership declined here and nationally. The pay services often are willing to keep shows that satisfy their customers or have critical buzz. "John" didn't get either.
On Showtime, the comedy "Weeds" gets a combined 2,566 households for the first two airings of each episode. And "Weeds" hasn't grown. In the last month, it barely had enough viewers to register a rating.
Showtime's "The Tudors" got 5,470 households for two airings of each episode. "Dexter" is getting 5,550 households. "Californication" averages about 2,166 households but recent episodes didn't get enough viewers to measure. "Brotherhood" rarely gets enough viewers to measure.
>Basic cable's best
Now let's move on to basic cable, which has a much larger subscriber base than the pay-cable channels and therefore gets more viewers. The cable figures illustrate why advertisers still need broadcast TV to get the widest audience. Broadcast TV's share of the audience may have plummeted, but it still dwarfs the share that all but a few cable shows get. However, cable channels are able to target specific demographic groups that make them appealing to advertisers.
In the first 10 months of the year, only four basic cable shows averaged greater than a 3 rating here, a figure that would most likely lead to cancellation by every broadcast network but the CW and MyNetwork.
By comparison, big broadcast network hits like "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" and "CSI" can get weekly ratings in the mid- to high-teens to the low 20s and can average between 90,000 households and 125,000 households.
The first run of the four highest-rated basic cable shows are TNT's "The Closer" (6.4 rating, 41,049 households); "WWE Entertainment" on USA Network (4.5, 28,732); "Monk" (4.1, 25,961) on USA and "Psych" (19,705) on USA (3.1). "Top Chef," the reality cooking show on Bravo, averaged a 2.9 and 18,303 households.
The top-rated FX show here is No. 6 "Dirt," in which Courteney Cox Arquette plays the ethically challenged editor of a celebrity magazine. Slammed by many critics, it averaged a 2.8 rating and 18,239 households. That was .1 (and 812 households) ahead of the critically acclaimed "Rescue Me" with Denis Leary.
"Army Wives" (2.4 rating, 15,477 households), the Lifetime series about relationships in the military, rounded out the top 10 after a couple of "Law & Order" repeats.
Among other original entertainment shows that get above a 2.0 rating and 12,000 households are "Eureka" on Sci-Fi, "Drake & Josh" on Nick, "Family Guy" reruns and "Robot Chicken" on Adult Swim, "South Park" on Comedy Central, "The Dead Zone" and "The 4400" on USA Network, "House of Payne" on TBS, "Ice Road Truckers" on The History Channel, "SpongeBob SquarePants" on Nick and "Real World- Road Rules Challenge" on MTV.
Interestingly, some of the more-hyped cable series don't attract big audiences here. "Damages," the FX series that just got a two season pickup and which stars Glenn Close as an unscrupulous attorney, only averaged a 1.8 rating and 11,453 households per original airing. And "The Riches," another critically acclaimed FX series starring Minnie Driver, didn't even make the top 50 in Buffalo. After a strong start, it lost more than half its audience in Week Three.
>Prime time news
Two Fox News programs -- "The O'Reilly Factor" and "On the Record" with Greta Van Susteren -- average better than a 2 rating.
Fox News wins the prime time cable news battle here, averaging a 1.8 rating from 8 to 9 p.m. Thanks to Keith Olbermann, MSNBC has overtaken CNN, .9-.8. Olbermann's 8 p.m. "Countdown" averages a 1.3 opposite "The O'Reilly Factor" (2.1).
Of course, cable sports do very well here.
The Monday Night Football franchise averaged a 7.7 rating (49,201 households). Thanks to the New York Yankees' appearances, the first season of baseball playoff games on TBS averaged a 3.0 (18,822 households). The adorable TBS series, "My Boys," about a female sportswriter, averaged a .8 rating or 5,196 households. That doesn't make it a big winner, but at least it wasn't in "Weeds" territory.
Finally, the Buffalo Sabres games are averaging about an 8.1 rating and 51,259 households (on MSG and Versus), a figure that puts the games in the ballpark of "The Sopranos" and a successful broadcast network series here.