NFL, 'The Closer' Score

Two titans clashed on cable television last Monday night … and it wasn't the National Football League's Cincinnati Bengals-Baltimore Ravens game on ESPN.

ESPN's season-opening Monday Night Football doubleheader butted heads with the season finale of Turner Network Television's The Closer to generate three of the highest-viewed shows on cable this year.

The Cincinnati Bengals' 27-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens (7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) earned an 8.6 household rating, representing an average of 8.29 households and almost 11.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That was good enough to rank as the second-highest cable household audience in 2007, behind only The Disney Channel's High School Musical 2, which scored 17.7 million viewers for its Aug. 17 premiere on the tween-targeted channel.

Meanwhile, the one-hour finale of The Closer, going head to head against the Bengals-Ravens game in the 9 p.m. timeslot, attracted a whopping 9.2 million viewers. The
audience was the highest ever for an ad-supported basic network, beating its own cable ad-supported network series episode record of 8.8 million viewers set this past June with the third-season premiere of the series, which stars Kyra Sedgwick.

The episode concluded a terrific season for the drama series. Overall, the show averages a 5.4 household rating and 8.1 million viewers, up 21% versus the prior season.

In addition, the show averaged 2.5 million adults 18-49 and 3.3 million adults 25-54, both double digit increases over season two.

TNT has already ordered 15 additional episodes for the fourth season, which is set to launch next summer.

“It's hard to imagine a better track record for success than what we've seen with The Closer,” Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin said in a statement.

ESPN's second game of the twin bill, the San Franciso 49ers' 20-17 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals, ranks as ESPN's lowest-viewed Monday Night Football contest ever.

The contest, which kicked off at 10:30 p.m., tackled a 6.9 rating, 6.63 million households and 8.5 million viewers.

That performance fell below the Nov. 13, 2006 game between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which pulled in 9.6 million viewers on average.

Still, the game ranks as the fifth-largest household audience for basic cable this season.

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.