Thursday could become even tougher

Night has long belonged to the broadcast networks

By Toni Fitzgerald

Media Life Magazine – 7/5/07

For the broadcast networks, Thursday has long been the most important night, and increasingly the most contested, as first CBS and then ABC began targeting the night with their best shows.

There now looks to be another contender, cable's USA.

Cable networks have a history of picking one night of the week to shine, putting on their best shows (Sunday for HBO, Wednesday for Bravo, Tuesday for FX) with the aim of making the channel itself a destination, beyond individual programs.

For USA, that night has become Thursday over this summer with two new ordinal series, “The Starter Wife” and the just-debuted “Burn Notice.” Last week they lifted USA to No. 1 on basic cable in total viewers and adults 18-49 on Thursday evening.

Come fall, USA may well begin airing original episodes of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” the longtime staple of NBC, on Thursdays as well. Under a renewal deal for the series, originals will air on USA and then later repeat on NBC, in a reversal of how things have long worked.

USA has yet to confirm it will air "L&O" originals on Thursday, but it has been considering it, and it would certainly make sense.

USA executives have said the network wants to establish a foothold on the most lucrative night of the week in terms of ad spending, when movie studios and others are looking to reach consumers making plans for the weekend.

It also makes sense for USA to begin establishing its Thursday base during the summer, when broadcast is in repeats and the competition is slow.

Just how much damage USA would do to broadcast on Thursday is hard to say, with the night as competitive as it is with top-rated shows like ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and CBS’s “CSI.”

But then that would not be the issue. Rather it would be how much it could improve its audience on a night so highly valued by advertisers.

Both "Burn" and "Wife" have given it a good start.

The 10 p.m. commercial-free premiere of “Burn” averaged 2.0 million 18-49 viewers and finished first for the night on basic cable in primetime in the demo. It even beat ABC's “Men in Trees” on broadcast.

The finale of “Wife,” meanwhile, was down from its debut, but still drew 1.6 million 18-49s, finishing No. 16 for the week in that demographic.

Meanwhile, in other cable ratings for the week ended July 1:

Top five networks in primetime (18-49s): USA, BET, TNT, TBS, Lifetime
Top five networks in primetime (total viewers): USA, TNT, BET, Lifetime, Fox News
Top movie (18-49s): Lifetime’s “Girl Positive” (Sunday, 8 p.m.) 1.87 million
Top sporting event (total viewers): TNT’s “Nextel Cup/Loudon” (Sunday, 2:30p.m.) 5.27 million

Shows making the top 10 among 18-34s, 18-49s and 25-54s: USA’s “WWE Entertainment” (Monday 8 p.m.); USA’s “WWE Entertainment” (Monday 9 p.m.); USA’s “WWE Entertainment” (Monday 10 p.m.); BET’s “BET Awards Show” (Tuesday 8 p.m.); VH1’s “Charm School” (Sunday 10 p.m.)