TNT found itself in an unfamiliar perch in January: atop the monthly cable Nielsen ratings, a spot that these days seems almost always to belong to Lifetime or maybe ESPN.
In January, TNT registered an average 2.0 rating and 2.4 million viewers in prime time, according to Nielsen Media Research data from ABC Cable Networks and Turner Broadcasting. It was TNT's first ratings win since May 2001.
Meanwhile, Lifetime was demoted to the second spot with a 1.8 rating and 2 million viewers, off about 20% from January 2002, which ranked as Lifetime's best ratings month in its history.
Fat ratings for original Western movie Monte Walsh
helped lift TNT's marks. Turner gambled by airing Monte Walsh
three straight nights in prime time, a strategy it has used successfully with theatrical movies like The Mummy. It proved a hit, grabbing a 5.7 rating at the Jan. 17 premiere, followed by a 4.0 rating for the Jan. 18 play and a 2.7 on Jan. 19.
Also contributing to TNT's win, said Turner research chief Jack Wakshlag, were Law & Order
reruns and National Basketball Association games. The NBA, he added, should grow: "We don't even have the great matchups until after the All Star Game [Feb 9]."
Lifetime lost out to ESPN in November and December, but January was the first time in months that Lifetime has been bested by another entertainment channel. Lifetime's head of research Tim Brooks says broadcast reality shows and strong cable offerings on TNT last month siphoned off some of Lifetime's viewers.
"Networks are all getting smart. January is a great time to launch shows," Brooks said, pointing to Fox's reality hits Joe Millionaire
and American Idol
Rounding out the top five were Nickelodeon in third place, collecting a 1.7 rating and 2.1 million viewers; TBS Superstation, with a 1.6 and 2 million viewers; and USA Network, with a 1.5 and 1.9 million viewers.
Among cable nets making the biggest gains over last year were FX, up 25% to a 1.0, and Court TV, which was also up 25% to 1.0. Fox News Channel upped its ratings 15% to a 1.2.
On the other end, Discovery slipped 23% to a 1.0 rating, and ABC Family was off 22% with a 0.7 January average. USA Network's ratings dipped 17%, and ESPN, without its powerful Sunday Night Football games, collected a 1.1 rating, down from a 1.3 average in the year-ago month.