NFL Kicks ESPN to Top Spot

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The National Football League is hot enough to carry an entire cable network on its shoulder pads. Buoyed by to stellar football ratings, ESPN finished November with a 2.4 average prime time rating, more than a half rating point away from its closest competitor, Lifetime, according to Turner Broadcast analysis of Nielsen Media Research. ESPN's ratings increased 33% over last November.

ESPN's Sunday Night Football franchise accounted for the month's four highest-rated programs on cable. The best came Nov. 17, when a New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders game notched an impressive 8.4 rating. In fact, the only non-ESPN show to rank among November's top 10 cable shows was Nickelodeon's own ratings smash, SpongeBob SquarePants.

Lifetime, which posted a 1.8 average in prime, fell into the second spot. TNT came in third with a 1.7 average; Nickelodeon and USA rounded out the top five, each with 1.6 ratings.

TLC continues to be Discovery Networks' top cable contender. The network turned in a 1.1 prime time average, up 38% from last year. Its Saturday-night redecorating favorite, Trading Spaces, posted ratings above a 3.0 five times in November.

And the Sci Fi Channel perked up 43% to a 1.0 rating. Its new documentary, The Roswell Crash,
investigating the excavation of the 1947 crash site (allegedly, of a UFO) in Roswell, N.M., notched a 1.7 rating on Nov. 22, the network's best rating for an original special.

Its sister net USA boasted a 3.5 debut rating for its latest original movie, Murder in Greenwich, based on former Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman's book on the murder of wealthy teenager Martha Moxley.