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‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Turn,’ and ‘Shameless’ and the Sunday Night TV Battle

Sunday nights have become the new battleground night for viewers and this week was no different. Three cable networks debuted pivotal programming and surprisingly all came out with mostly positive results.

HBO wins the 'Game'

(Credit: HBO)

HBO (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) ) had arguably the biggest slate of the night with the fourth season opener of Game of Thrones, the third season debut of Veep, and the series premiere of new comedy Silicon Valley all hitting the air. Of the three, Thrones made the biggest impact.

The fantasy series drew 6.6 million viewers in its initial 9 p.m. broadcast, which is up 2.2 million from last year's then-record breaking 4.4 million total. That number is also 900,000 viewers higher than the show's previous season high that came during the third season (and no, it wasn't the "Red Wedding" episode). Putting that in the grand scheme, the season premiere now becomes HBO's most-watched telecast since The Sopranos (literally) faded to black in 2007.

Counting the show's 11 p.m. encore and the actual total for the night is just over 8 million viewers, which doesn't even include people tuning in to watch on HBO's "HBO Go" app, which -- as was the case with True Detective -- crashed from the demand. With so many dramas going away in 2014, the network needed to know it could still rely on Thrones to be its marquee series ... and it certainly can.

HBO's luck continued with the net's debut of Silicon Valley, which debuted at 10 p.m. and pulled in 2 million viewers. The comedy from Office Space's Mike Judge now becomes the network's biggest half-hour launch since Hung bowed in 2009 with 2.8 million viewers. Following rough runs of lesser-watched "niche" comedies dating back to 2010, this was also a big win.

The only decline of the night was with Veep. Now bumped to 10:30, it fell to around 955,000 viewers, a drop from the 1.2 million that tuned in last year. Still Veep's loss in numbers is not that big of a deal -- it wasn't a huge plunge and the show not only has already built an established audience but is an Emmy favorite. It was far more important for Thrones to come back strong and for Valley to get off to a good start. Executives know Veep will rally and deliver where it counts ... at the Emmys.

'Turn' around?

(Credit: AMC)

While AMC's (NASDAQ: AMCX  ) debut of Turn didn't hit Throne's 6 million mark, it still had a respectable night. The Revolutionary War drama about the country's first spy ring saw 2.1 million viewers across its 90-minute launch. Counting the encore that number jumped to 3 million, with its demo ratings jumping from 669,000 to 1.1 million viewers. The audience held steady throughout the show, which is a good sign as it means the episode kept viewers interested.

It wasn't all good news, especially if you compare Turn's debut to other recent AMC original series. It failed to top past dramas including Hell on Wheels (4.4 million), The Killing (2.7 million), and last year's megaflop Low Winter Sun (2.5 million). However, Sun had the benefit of Breaking Bad's final season premiere to goose its numbers. Turn was a self-starter, which is encouraging.

It should also be mentioned that after The Killing's horrendous season one finale it never got above 2 million viewers again, and Wheels is a complete anomaly as it still pulling in 3 million viewers a week, and on a Saturday night no less. AMC can't even explain that one -- executives just know there's no reason to fix what's clearly working.

The important number for Turn will come next week when prior marketing and promotional opportunities fade and the second week slump comes into play. Most shows fall between 10% and 20% from week one to week two and that's how executives begin to gauge what works. Turn needs to hold those viewers from last week if it has any chance of sticking around, but for now it was a respectable start.

Showtime finale figures

(Credit: Showtime)

While HBO and AMC were debuting programs last night, Showtime (a subsidiary of CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) ) was wrapping two of its own. The already renewed Shameless and House of Lies each went out big. Shameless' fourth season finale had 1.93 viewers in its initial airing and then saw that number swell to 2.83 with the encore. That makes last night's episode the highest-rated finale in series history and the largest audience of the season.

Lies had a good night as well with 731,000 viewers over its first run and then rose to 1.4 million counting the encore. It was also the series' most-watched capper. Shameless, Lies, and the already wrapped Episodes are expected back on the air in early 2015.

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