USA Network, with its powerful "Characters Welcome" slogan, was the top-rated basic-cable network with 18-49 viewers for the third quarter, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research numbers that blended Nielsen Live +7 numbers with live-plus-same-day numbers.
In fact, the top four networks in Q3 2008 mirrored those from last year.
USA benefited from summer series Burn Notice and In Plain Sight, as well as Friday detective shows Monk and Psych. USA averaged 1.26 million viewers 18-49, with 2.83 million total viewers.
ESPN, bolstered by its Monday Night Football coverage, finished second for the quarter with 1.12 million demo viewers and 2.26 million total.
TBS drew dividends from My Boys and The Bill Engvall Show, while TNT saw gains from top-rated drama The Closer and new series Raising the Bar. Overall, TBS drew 1 million demo viewers and 1.74 million total viewers, with TNT averaging 944,000 demo viewers and 2.38 million total.
Cartoon Network saw growth in primetime with its key demos -- kids 6-11, 2-11 and 9-14 -- seeing increases of 10%-13% in each over last year. Overall, Cartoon averaged 1.41 million viewers in primetime. Adult Swim, which shares channel space with Cartoon beginning at 11 p.m., claimed No. 1 total-day delivery for its target demo of adults 18-34.
Lifetime Television -- powered by drama Army Wives and original movies Coco Chanel and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter -- finished eighth with 638,000 demo viewers and 1.49 million total.
As usual, Nickelodeon was the top total-day network with kids 2-11 and total viewers, averaging 2.2 million viewers two-plus.
Among the other networks, The History Channel had its best quarter ever, seeing double-digit increases in the key demos, with total viewers averaging 1.1 million for the quarter.
Oxygen had its best ever quarter among its key demos in primetime, averaging 238,000 viewers 18-49.
The top 10 in 18-49 ranked like this, with average millions of primetime viewers in parentheses: USA (1.26 million), ESPN (1.12 million), TBS (1 million), TNT (944,000), A&E Network (720,000), FX (676,000), Sci Fi Channel (639,000), Lifetime (638,000), Discovery Channel (614,000) and Nick at Nite (594,000).
In Nielsen rankings of the top 10 programs clustered by persons two-plus, 18-49, 18-34 and 25.54, sports events dominated. The only scripted dramas to break through were episodes of The Closer, Raising the Bar and MTV’s The Hills.