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USA’s Summer Threepeat

9/06/2010 4:48 AM Eastern

Having all but locked up the summer basic cable
ratings race, USA Network is looking to keep its momentum
going into the fall with the return of several top hits.

The “Characters Welcome” network is averaging 3.4 million viewers
from May 31 to Aug. 22, according to a Turner Broadcasting System
analysis of Nielsen data, besting Disney’s 2.8 million viewer
pace for the summer. It’s the third straight summer win for USA, led
by its lineup of scripted drama/comedy series White Collar, Psych,
Royal Pains, Burn Notice
and new freshman series Covert Affairs.

“We just feel lucky and fortunate to have had an amazing
streak to some degree,” said USA Network president Bonnie
Hammer. “We’ve built a brand from the ground up, and as long
as we stay on brand and develop shows that we believe our audience
really wants to see, we’ll be OK.”

USA Network won the summer ratings race, though its viewership
did slip 5% from summer 2009, when it drew a cable-record
3.6 million viewers. Hammer pointed to the lack of a strong summer
off -net acquisition — House and NCIS aired on USA together during the summer for the first time in 2009 — for
the network’s ratings falloff . USA’s decision to move its top shows
into more competitive timeslots also played a role. New seasons
of White Collar and Psych moved into very competitive situations
on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, respectively, from their lesscontested
previous berths on Friday nights, said the network.

Also, the network abandoned the Sunday-night beachhead it established
last summer with In Plain Sight and Law & Order: Criminal
Intent
and instead launched Covert Affairs on Tuesdays, against FX
veteran Rescue Me and TNT’s new detective series Memphis Beat.

The shows held their own despite the increased competition: The
CIA-based drama Covert Affairs is averaging 5 million subscribers,
the second most watched new scripted series of the summer behind
TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles and ahead of time slot competitor, TNT’s Memphis
Beat
. Only Psych suffered a noticeable decline (3 million on
Wednesdays compared to 3.5 million viewers during its last season,
which aired on Fridays.) On the flip side, White Collar and Covert
Affairs
boosted their Tuesday timeslots 106% and 164% specifically
compared to the same period last year, according to Nielsen.

“We’re not worried — we’re really convinced our strategy was
right,” said Hammer of the losses. “We left the safety zone of Friday
and Sunday nights, bit the bullet and went Tuesday, Wednesday
and Thursday night, which going toe-to-toe with broadcast and
cable networks like Turner in a very different way. Some of our risktaking
is for long-term thinking and long-term growth.”

USA will continue to take risks this fall . In November, the network
will air new episodes of Psych on Wednesdays and Burn
Notice
on Thursdays, Hammer said.

In January, USA will debut its newest drama series, Facing Kate,
starring Sarah Shahi (The L Word) as Kate Reed, a frustrated litigator
who elects to become a mediator. White Collar and Royal Pains will
also return during first-quarter 2011. “We’re going to have a strong
fourth quarter and a very healthy 2011,” she said.

September