It was an extraordinary night on cable last night, with a high-profile series debut (USA Network’s Covert Affairs), a high-profile series finale (MTV’s The Hills) and an extraordinary event episode on Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. After weeks of ratings build-up, the late Capt. Phil Harris’ final episode on Deadliest Catch last night drew a record 8.55 million viewers at 9 PM, with 6.8 million staying on for After the Catch at 10PM. This was an all-time high for Deadliest Catch in total viewers as well as adults 18-49 (5.2 million) and adults 25-54 (5.7 million), shattering the series’ previous all-time record posted just last week (5.3 million total viewers, 2.6 million in 18-49 and 3.1 million in 25-54).
Airing against the huge Catch and the series finale of The Hills (3.0 million viewers at 10 PM, 2.3 million of them in the 18-49 demo) were the debuts USA’s freshman Covert Affairs and sophomore White Collar, which did respectable business under the circumstances. It was another solid premiere for a new original cable series this summer as Covert Affairs drew 4.9 million viewers for its opener at 10 PM. It performed well in the younger demos: its adults 18-49 average, 2.104 million, makes Covert Affairs the highest-rated scripted cable premiere this year in the demographic, edging out the 2.079 million 18-49 tally for TNT’s new drama Rizzoli & Isles (Rizzoli easily tops all cable newcomers in total viewers with 7.6 million)
Covert Affairs’ premiere audience of 4.9 million is lower than the debuts of USA’s Royal Pains and White Collar (5.6 million and 5.4 million, respectively) last year, but those series had more established lead-ins (Burn Notice and Monk, respectively). Covert Affairs followed the second-season premiere of White Collar (4.3 million), which was down 20% from its first season premiere as the show has moved to the anchor position on Wednesday and faced the much-hyped episode of The Deadliest Catch last night. The show still finished 12% above its average for the lower-rated winter portion of Season 1. Stylish spy drama Covert Affairs starring Piper Perabo, built on its White Collar lead-in by double digits in all key measures. USA’s Collar/Covert combo finished ahead of TNT’s Hawthorne/Memphis Beat, which averaged 2.6 million and 3.0 million viewers, respectively at 9PM and 10PM, and tied (Hawthorne)/hit (Memphis Beat) series lows in 18-49.
Overall, it’s been another summer of strong launches for original cable series: Rizzoli (7.6 million), Covert Affairs (4.9 million), TV Land’s Hot In Cleveland (4.8 million), TNT’s Memphis Beat (4.3 million) and A&E’s The Glades (3.6 million).
As for The Hills, the show’s series finale hit a season high and was up 72% from last season’s finale.