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Cable TV's Winner and Losers

For TV's major cable networks, 2006 was another year of the line rising on the graph. Through early December, they collectively claimed a record 55.5% of television's primetime audience, according to Turner Broadcasting System chief researcher Jack Wakshlag. The year brought quality debuts, ratings records and a parcel of Emmys. Arguably the biggest broadcast sports franchise ever, Monday Night Football, moved to cable's ESPN. USA scored a hit with Psych, the highest-rated new cable series of the year, and TNT ended up with cable's top series of all time: season two of The Closer, which averaged 6.6 million viewers. Both series are prime examples of the cable credo: As John Rash, senior VP for media-buying agency Campbell Mithun, puts it, “Cable networks are consistently trying to out-innovate broadcast television and be an alternative media from the more staid networks.” The year wasn't without its misses (HBO's Lucky Louie and Spike's Blade among them), but the networks provided solid creative and entertaining options. Herewith a list of 10 buzz-worthy topics, five big cable sports stories, and what's ahead for scripted series in 2007.