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Fox News Continues Reign with Big Three

So far, the Obama Administration has been great business for Fox News.

Led by the trio of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and newcomer Glenn Beck, Fox News maintained its hold as the leading cable news network for March, as well as the first quarter of 2009. Fox News' primetime viewership of 2.3 million was more than the combined total of No. 2 CNN (1.1 million) and No. 3 MSNBC (957,000). HLN, formerly Headline News, is fourth (330,000).

O'Reilly celebrated his 100th consecutive month as the leading cable news program, dating back to 2000. Hannity, sans his former lefty sidekick/punching bag Alan Colmes, is No. 2, up 36% from the same period last year. Overall, Fox News has nine of the top 10 cable news programs in viewership.

The phenomenal growth of Glenn Beck's 5 p.m. show has been a boost to Fox News. A self-proclaimed "rodeo clown," Beck switched from HLN to Fox News two months ago and has increased viewership for the same time slot by nearly 100% from a year ago. Beck's show is now a solid No. 3 overall.

While Fox News' hold on top is unchallenged, CNN is desperately trying to fend off MSNBC for second place. Among primetime viewers, CNN has fallen behind MSNBC in the most desirable demographic category of 25-54 year-olds, and with only about half of Fox News' audience.

With the addition of Rachel Maddow in the 9 p.m. slot, MSNBC has siphoned off considerable number of viewers from CNN. Once the dominant cable news show, Larry King Live is on the verge of being pushed into third place for the time slot behind both Hannity and Maddow.

The slide of Larry King may be symptomatic of the struggles at CNN, which is trying to entrench itself as the "middle ground" between Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left. The problem seems to be that there's not a lot of audience for that in an increasingly polarized political landscape:

Over time ... King's show has become the home of criminal mysteries, and entertainment conversation. For viewers who want political talk, either FNC or MSNBC is the place to go. It is really is only a matter of time until Maddow starts beating King on a nightly basis ... King's slide is another symptom of CNN's inability to keep up with the times.

Meanwhile, network news continued its inexorable decline. NBC, with Brian Williams, maintained its hold on first place with modesty growth in the first quarter. ABC's Charles Gibson came in second while Katie Couric and CBS languished in third, with nearly 3 million fewer viewers than NBC.