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USA Tops For Summer

As the summer season peaks, USA Network is on track to post cable's most-viewed primetime in the season's history.

USA has averaged 3.6 million viewers in prime this summer. If it can hold on to that, it will beat previous record-holder Disney Channel, which averaged 3.1 million viewers in summer 2007.

The network's performance has been driven in part by new hit Royal Pains, which has grown since its June 4 launch and drew 6.5 million total viewers (2.8 million among adults 18-49) on June 16. It's also seen an uptick for Royal Pains lead-in Burn Notice and received consistent performances from off-network dramas like NCIS.

Staying on-brand is key, says Horizon Media's Brad Adgate. “Obviously there is a type of show on USA that works. [Royal Pains] is one of them, like Psych or Burn Notice or In Plain Sight,” he says.

TNT (2.16 million viewers in prime) is second, though it has diminished numbers in total and demo viewers in the past four summers. But The Closer (nearly 6.7 million viewers) is the top drama on cable and rookie HawthoRNe averages 3.8 million viewers (1.5 million in 18-49), holding strong from its premiere to its second episode.

Turner research chief Jack Wakshlag remains upbeat about TNT, noting that strong duo. He also says now is a good time for TV in general.

Of course, summer is just heating up. TNT, Sci Fi (Syfy on July 7) and Lifetime have major new and returning series yet to premiere, leaving opportunity for new breakouts.

But NBC Universal Cable Entertainment President Bonnie Hammer, who oversees USA and Syfy, says summer can cool in an instant. "None of us, in our heart of hearts, believes or has the arrogance that [being atop the cable rankings] will last forever," Hammer says. "Anyone out there producing original fare we see as healthy competition."

Several networks further down the ratings rankings likewise have records in their sights, driven by programming that fits their most successful vein. ABC Family, Bravo, Discovery, E!, Food Network, TLC and TruTV are all looking at best-ever demo ratings.

ABC Family just posted its best June ever in all key metrics, including total viewers and the 18-49 demo, thanks to The Secret Life of the American Teenager and new series Make It or Break It. USA sister network Bravo, which has scheduled new installments of its Real Housewives franchise and had early success with new docu-soap NYC Prep this summer, has been growing year over year for five straight summers. E!'s coverage of the death of Michael Jackson and new series Kendra helped it deliver its best June on record in all key measures. And TruTV regained its footing after its rebrand from CourtTV last year and is once again growing, particularly in the younger demos it was hoping to attract.