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Lifetime's quiet threepeat

Despite the tragedy of Sept. 11, Lifetime Television stayed ahead in the cable-network race for the third quarter, averaging a 2.1 rating in prime time, according to Turner Entertainment Research analysis of Nielsen numbers released last week.

Right behind were TBS, USA, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, which all tied for second with an average 1.7 rating.

It was the third straight quarter that Lifetime topped the cable Nielsens, but, recently, news networks have made cable's biggest headlines.

The Sept. 11 attacks and ensuing coverage propelled CNN and Fox News into the top 10 for the first quarter this year.

Top-rated nets refrained from touting their accomplishments in sync with the somber media climate since the attacks.

Lifetime's Sunday-night dramas and original movies routinely produced high ratings through July, August and September.

As expected, the biggest ratings growth came from the cable news nets. CNN averaged a 1.2 for the quarter, up 100% from the same period last year, while Fox News' ratings grew 120%, to a 1.1 average. MSNBC saw its ratings improve 75%, to a 0.7.

In September, CNN led all prime time cable nets, with a 2.0 average, while Fox News cracked the top 10, with a 1.5 average. MSNBC tied the Discovery Channel and bested MTV, with a 1.1 average. Lifetime finished second, with a 1.9 average.

Industry execs say CNN's breaking-news strength gave it a clear advantage early on, but Fox commentary and chatter have helped it narrow the gap. Entertainment networks dipped 5%-10% since the attacks, according to Lifetime's research guru, Tim Brooks, but those nets hope viewers are ready to escape the grimness.