Showtime High on Weeds Opener; MTV Up on The Hills

Premium channel's hit series boosts newcomer 'Californication' while 'The Hills' returns for season three

Showtime's strategy of packaging its original series in a programming block brought the network early dividends Monday night (Aug. 13). The third season premiere of Weeds performed 43% better than Season Two’s opener, and the series premiere of Californication held on to a very respectable 66.5% of its Weeds lead-in.

MTV had a good night, too: The Season Three premiere of The Hills, with back-to-back new episodes at 10:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., outdrew all broadcast and cable networks in the timeslot with viewers in its 12-34 demo. And season three's Hills debut was up 20% in the demo over the first season’s debut and up 44% over the second.

Weeds averaged 824,000 viewers at 10 p.m., the biggest audience ever for a single telecast of the suburban-set marijuana drama (see this week's Fifth Estater profile of series creator Jenji Kohan). A replay at 11 p.m. drew 390,000 viewers. The series premiere of Californication, the dark comedy starring David Duchovny, averaged 550,000 viewers at 10:30—49% more than Weeds' own series premiere in 2005 (488,000). A Californication replay at 11:30 pulled in 245,000.

The Hills hour averaged a 3.84 rating with viewers 12-34, the best ever for a Hills showing and the highest rated telecast so far this year for the network. The episodes averaged 3.6 million total viewers.

With some 14.5 million subscribers, Showtime is roughly half the size of its pay-cable rival HBO, which wouldn’t find much to celebrate in Showtime’s Monday draw. Indeed, HBO swiftly brought down the ax yesterday on its new summer drama John From Cincinnati in part because original episodes averaged 1.5 million viewers.