December 12, 2007 / 7:27 AM / in 10 years

ABC Family locks up cable race with holiday movie

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Three cable networks saw solid returns from original holiday movies during the weekend, led by ABC Family's "Holiday in Handcuffs" with an average of 6.7 million viewers.

Meanwhile, initial projections are showing that Disney Channel and USA Network are in a tight race for this year's total-viewers crown among basic cable networks, while USA is leading TBS in the advertiser-coveted demographic of adults 18-49.

"Handcuffs," which aired on Sunday, was ABC Family's most-watched telecast ever, according to Nielsen Media Research. The movie, starring Mario Lopez and Melissa Joan Hart, also set network records in key demos, including adults 18-49 (3.2 million viewers), adults 18-34 (1.6 million), women 18-49 (2.1 million) and women 18-34 (1.1 million).

For the week, "Handcuffs" was the second-most-watched cable telecast behind ESPN's record-breaking "Monday Night Football" telecast (17.5 million).

Lifetime and Hallmark Channel also got good news with their holiday movies. Lifetime's "Lost Holiday: The Jim and Suzanne Shemwell Story," starring Jami Gertz and Dylan Walsh, averaged 3.6 million viewers Sunday. Before "Lost Holiday," a 7 p.m. airing of the Rob Lowe/Kimberly Williams-Paisley film "The Christmas Shoes" averaged 3.9 million viewers, becoming Lifetime's most-watched weekend movie of the year.

Meanwhile, Hallmark Channel's "The Note," starring Genie Francis and Ted McGinley, averaged 3.9 million viewers Saturday. "The Note" stands as Hallmark's third-most-watched original movie premiere ever.

Elsewhere in cable ratings news:

* MTV's "The Hills" went out with a bang, drawing 4.7 million viewers to what was originally scheduled to be its third-season finale at 10 p.m. Monday. (The network has ordered eight new episodes to air beginning in the first quarter.) This season's 18 episodes averaged 3.9 million viewers.

* The premiere of A&E's original series "Paranormal State" (2.5 million viewers) at 10 p.m. Monday became the network's most-watched series premiere since "Dog the Bounty Hunter" in August 2004.

* CNN's "Heroes" awards telecast didn't do much to help the network in the ratings, with the three-hour special averaging only 567,000 viewers on Thursday and then coming in fourth place among cable news shows in repeats Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Overall in the 2007 cable viewership race, Disney Channel is leading all basic cable networks in primetime with an average of 2.7 million viewers, while USA is close behind with 2.67 million. Disney Channel had held the record for most-watched cable telecast ever, thanks to this year's "High School Musical 2" premiere (17.2 million), until ESPN's "MNF" edged it out last week.

In the key demos, USA is leading the pack, beating closest competitor TBS in adults 18-49 (1.2 million vs. 1 million) and in adults 18-34 (558,000 vs. 541,000). USA also is leading in 25-54, followed by TNT (1.2 million vs. 1 million).

USA's lead in the demo races was spurred by "Burn Notice" and "The Starter Wife," the top new original cable series for the year among adults 18-49 and 25-54.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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