Amid challenging economic times, corporate fortunes can change in weeks and months—even days. With what we endured in Oct alone, for example, just how far out of touch does May seem now as ’09 approaches? Following are the percentage losses of select cable programming stocks since May 2: Discovery (-47%), Disney (-35%), News Corp (-57%), Time Warner (-40%) and Viacom (-59%). Ouch. On that date this page featured an amalgamated ranking of basic cable nets using weighted Beta research data covering operators, basic subs and advertisers (implied). The top 10: Discovery Channel, ESPN, HGTV, Food Net, ESPN2, History, Disney, Fox News, CNN and MTV. I parsed data for a revised tally and ranking, with a couple of changes. 2 metrics were used in the operator category instead of 1 (with updated data), and the advertising category was rated equal to the sub category instead of below. Given the severe contraction in the current ad market, I felt advertisers’ views of cable nets to be far more important now. And since carriage still conducts the overall network train, I opted to include ops’ perceived value of channels along with the perceived importance of channels on sub retention and acquisition. The new list: Discovery, ESPN, ESPN2, Disney Channel, Food Net, History, HGTV, Weather Channel, CNN, and MTV. Discovery remains the top dog, although its margin of victory was trimmed 14 percentage points by ESPN, which benefited greatly by its value in ops’ eyes. The Deuce and Disney ascended the rankings for the same reason. Using just the top 10 data, the nod must go to Disney among parents for 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-place finishes, while Discovery (1st and 6th) and Scripps (5th and 7th) also deserve plaudits. As before, these findings are not scientifically sound. But it doesn’t take a scientist to see how quickly times are changing. CH

Highlights: "Leverage," Sun, 10pm, TNT. Perhaps the holidays have made us generous. Maybe we like derivatives of AMC‘s erstwhile "Hustle." Whatever, "Leverage" is TNT’s best, and by a wide margin. Remove the star, unshaven Timothy Hutton, and this series about do-gooder, high-tech grifters wouldn’t suffer. That’s because it’s fast paced and well written with a strong ensemble, featuring leggy Gina Bellman ("Coupling") and Aldis Hodge as a cool geek. SA

Worth a Look: "House of Saddam," parts I, II, Sun, 9pm, HBO: You won’t find HBO Films’ best work in parts I and II of this 4-pt dramatization of Sadaam’s life. It begins in ’79, when Sadaam grabbed power in a bloodless coup that became bloody. Yet after 2 hrs we learn little we didn’t know already about Hussein (or couldn’t surmise). Yes, he killed capriciously, was a tyrant and had a crazy son. Still, this is HBO (and the BBC), so it’s well done, with fine work by Igal Naor as Sadaam and Shohreh Aghdashloo as wife #1. We’ll hang for parts III and IV Dec 14, but it’s our job. — "Flirting with 40," Sat, 9pm, Lifetime. The perfect Lifetime fantasy film? Perhaps. Nearly perfect Heather Locklear, 47, in a bikini, is a 40-yr-old divorcee cavorting with a 27-yr-old surfer in Hawaii. SA

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