USA Wins, Without a Body Slam

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USA Network is back. The channel hasn't been a cable champion since the World Wrestling Entertainment defected to TNN (now Spike TV) in 2000, taking hefty Nielsen ratings with it.

Thanks largely to original hit Monk and off-net runs of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, USA, which is likely to be owned soon by NBC, ascended to the top of the cable Nielsen prime time charts for the first quarter, edging out general-entertainment rival TNT by a slim 16,000 viewers. USA averaged 2.426 million viewers in prime, while TNT attracted 2.410 million viewers.

USA's quarterly marks rose 28% from a year ago; TNT's were up 3%. For its part, TNT won the quarter in the key 18-49 and 25-54 demos.

Rounding out the top five were Nickelodeon (2.289 million viewers, up 5%); TBS Superstation (1.927 million viewers, down 1%), and Lifetime (1.659 million viewers, off 10%.)

Also making gains were Discovery (27%), ABC Family (39%), History Channel (25%), and Hallmark Channel (52%).

The cable news networks' ratings dipped from a year ago; that's no surprise since the war in Iraq and the lead-up to the war drove ratings sky high last year.