Three shows I really like including my favorite topped the preliminary year end lists with "most current" accounting for adults 18-49. Keep in mind that all the season-to-date results for Burn Notice and Royal Pains are Live+7 (full week of DVR viewing counted in) while the Sons of Anarchy data is Live+7 for the first 11 episodes but only Live+Same Day for the last two, including the finale, so SOA will likely creep up a bit.
But with that in mind Burn Notice was tops with 3.27 million average adults 18-49 (in a combination between new season 2 and season 3 episodes) , followed by Royal Pains with 3.15 million and Sons of Anarchy with 3.04 million. Those were the top three programs among all ad-supported cable original series, scripted or unscripted with adults 18-49. Among scripted shows South Park was next up with 2.47 and The Closer with 2.42 million.
But with males 18-49, even without the Live+7 for the last two episodes factored in, SOA was #1 averaging 1.9 million, topping Burn Notice's 1.7 million and Royal Pains' 1.4 million.
Royal Pains had the advantage of airing in the summer against lesser broadcast competition. Burn Notice was split between the normal TV viewing season and the summer.
And here's an interesting chart via Turner that shows that declines in 18-49 share for the major broadcasters have resulted in cable share gains during the last decade:
Source: Turner Research from Nielsen Media Research data. Reflects the “strict broadcast prime” daypart (M-Sa 8-11p & Sun 7-11p). Final Live+7 data (12/26/05-11/22/09) blended with preliminary Live+Same Day (11/23/09-12/06/09). Live prior to 12/26/05. 4 broadcast nets weighted total: ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX.