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Score of a Lifetime

USA Networks' loss of the World Wrestling Federation is causing the expected shakeup in the cable Nielsen rankings, with Lifetime Television emerging as the new No. 1 network for January.

While Lifetime has won certain weeks, this is the first time the women's network has held the top slot for an entire month. The top rank in cable-household viewership primarily offers bragging rights since it doesn't reflect audience demos that advertisers actually buy. But it's also a strong sign of a network going in the right direction.

Network executives have been expecting lots of jockeying for the No. 1 slot stemming from the World Wrestling Federation's September shift of its hugely popular Monday-night WWF Raw show from USA to TNN. That alone was expected to cut USA's ratings by 0.3-0.4 ratings points. But, for the January ratings period (which actually ended Sunday, Jan. 28) USA plunged 30% from a 2.7 to a 1.9. At the same time, Lifetime's steady growth carried the network from a 1.9 to a 2.1 Nielsen score, leaving USA in second place. TNT tied USA, while TBS followed up with a 1.8.

Lifetime President Carole Black acknowledged that Lifetime's rise is more a result of USA's massive audience losses than her network's steady growth. However, part of success is "doing things right and hoping competitors make mistakes." Lifetime has had fairly good success with original series Strong Medicine,TheDivision and Any Day Now. But, as at other non-sports networks, the big scores are really from movies.

The non-WWF portion of TNN's schedule is too weak to put that network anywhere near the top. January was seen as the first test month of the post-WWF order because ESPN gets unusually high ratings for its fall NFL games. On a total-day basis, Nickelodeon remained the top-rated channel with a 1.5, which is no change from the same period last year.