The sweltering months this year once again proved to be extremely lucrative for cable, which has traditionally used the summer season to launch their new programming. This year was no exception, with the cable networks premiering a slew of popular shows—from Pretty Little Liars to Covert Affairs—and returning with some ratings behemoths, such as True Blood, Mad Men, and White Collar. But that’s not to say that the broadcasters were completely left in the dust; thanks to some unexpected performers like ABC’s Canadian co-production Rookie Blue and another popular edition of The Bachelorette.
Yet, the disparity between cable and broadcast seemed even more pronounced this summer, with the former touting record ratings for several series premieres, while the latter largely languished with repeats and underperforming first-run programming. The broadcasters are in a bit of a bind as they’ve yet to successfully crack the summer ratings game, while cable seems to be walking away with a sizable piece of the zeitgeist.
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USA Network has proven itself capable of launching any show and transforming it into a king-size hit. The network has been pushing its specific brand of dramedy programming (and action-comedies). On a smaller level, AMC has successfully diversified its brand of high-quality drama with this summer’s Rubicon and this fall’s zombie drama The Walking Dead, both of which are distinctive from the network’s ratings and critical successes Mad Men and Breaking Bad. While Rubicon has stumbled of late in the ratings, its massive launch proved that AMC has the ability to drive eyes to their series and season launches. While it's not yet on the level of HBO or Showtime, AMC has the critical notices to take on the pay cable big boys. As for those ratings machines, HBO has redefined its brand with series like True Blood that are both critical and audience favorites, regardless of the time of year.
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a website devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment websites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.