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Cable Originals Off to a Strong Start

Several high-profile cable network premiere movies and series posted strong — and in some cases record-breaking — ratings performances.

FX's March 12 debut of its highly touted, gritty original police series The Shield
delivered a 4.1 household rating, making it the highest-rated premiere episode of a scripted series in basic-cable history, according to FX officials. The cop drama, starring Michael Chiklis (The Commish), raised eyebrows with its graphic language and content, but garnered positive reviews from critics.

"Critics and now viewers have recognized that this is one of the most compelling shows on television, period," FX Networks president and CEO Peter Liguori said.

The network is betting that The Shield
will help push the general-entertainment channel's ratings toward the same level as its competitors. In February, FX averaged a 0.6 primetime household rating, well behind USA Network's 1.7 and a 1.6 for both TBS Superstation and Turner Network Television.

"This combination of audience turnout and critical acclaim deepens our commitment to branding the network through quality original programming," Liguori said. "One episode of one series does not necessarily make the network, but it's a quantum leap in the right direction."

FX has sold out the ad time for the next two installments of the 13-episode series, despite defections from a few advertisers because of the show's content. "We've sold out the first three episodes, so whomever left has been heartily replaced," Ligouri said.

Another controversial premiere, ESPN's Season on the Brink
garnered a 3.45 household rating on March 10. The sports network's maiden original movie foray, centering on controversial college basketball coach Bob Knight, featured explicit language, including the "F" word in a number of instances.

ESPN2's edited version of the film, which ran simultaneously with ESPN's uncut offering, generated a 0.55 rating. "As the signature project of our ESPN Original Entertainment initiative, A Season on the Brink
fulfilled its promise and its mission completely," ESPN President George Bodenheimer said.

Sci Fi, Disney Scored

The Sci Fi Channel was not as successful with its two-part, four-hour miniseries Firestarter: Rekindled, which aired March 10 and March 11. The miniseries, a sequel to the popular theatrical movie based on the Steven King novel, drew a cumulative 2.2 Nielsen Media Research data rating, Sci Fi officials said.

Both Season On The Brink
and the first installment of Firestarter: Rekindled
went head to head against broadcast network CBS's 9/11
special, which drew more than 39 million viewers.

One of the biggest ratings surprises was the strong performance of Disney Channel's original film Cadet Kelly.
The March 8 premiere of the military school-themed movie averaged a 5.6 household rating, the highest-ever for the network's original-movie franchise.

Cadet Kelly
evidently benefited from a Lizzie McGuire
marathon that day. The stunt culminated with a 3.1 household rating for the skein's installment at 7:30 p.m., the best ever for the popular series. Cadet Kelly
stars Hilary Duff (Lizzie McGuire) and Christy Carlson Romano (Even Stevens).

In another well-touted premiere, Court TV's first original film, Guilt by Association
generated a 1.5 rating on March 13, the network said.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.