Other cable networks are following a similar path this season, frequently beating the big broadcast networks, not in overall numbers, but with a more concentrated, young audience.
Breakout Kings, an exciting crime drama that adds to its appeal with some character types we don't often see, will attract a much wider audience, as our flawed heroes seek to round up escapees. There's money there, too. Its ratings should exceed those of the Criminal Minds reruns that currently fill the slot, and will certainly include a greater number of younger viewers.
In success, Breakout Kings would also help burnish A&E's image, at a lesser level certainly than Mad Men has done for AMC but perhaps enough to allow the network to charge higher advertising rates. Branding is even more of a holy grail in TV than in many other industries.
The show, from the same crowd who made Prison Break for Fox, was originally developed for the Fox broadcast network and scored very well in audience testing. It was supposed to be a sure thing for the fall schedule, but the network passed.
There may still be a payday for Fox. The Fox 21 studio, which produces another gritty, popular ensemble drama, Sons of Anarchy, could see extra profits from DVD and international sales.
International sales are tougher with stand-up comedy and reality-style shows. Prison escapes and car chases are a universal language, while laughs are more local, based on culture, and most countries develop their own reality shows to appeal to their particular citizens.
That's happening in the United States, too, with growing success. Most nights this season at 10, unscripted cable shows are dusting off the broadcast networks' clocks, if not cleaning them outright, among viewers 18 to 49.
MTV's Jersey Shore wins the demo every week on Thursday nights. History Channel's Pawn Stars and American Pickers, MTV's Teen Mom, Bravo's The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills all give the broadcast networks a run for their money in the demo.
On Feb. 22, the last Tuesday for which detailed ratings were available at 10 p.m., CBS's The Good Wife trounced the competition in total viewers, but finished third, tied with Tosh.0, among the younger viewers advertisers crave. MTV's Teen Mom, with nearly 8 million fewer total viewers than The Good Wife, still finished first in the demo.
Older folk may find less humor than youngsters in Tosh.0, which features such fare as videos of a hyena poking in the nether regions of a dead elephant, or a drunk trying to urinate into his own mouth. But there's no denying the twisted humor of Daniel Tosh, a 35-year-old who looks more like a college kid.
His special, filmed last summer in San Francisco, includes no video props, and hard-core Tosh.0 fans might be slightly disappointed.
But with his crew cut, wide smile, white shirt, V-neck sweater, baggy pants, and sneakers, he's able to get away with murder, scoring stand-up laughs frequently from unlikely topics.
Take the 2008 decapitation of a teenager under a roller coaster at the Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park:
"The first thing that went through my head was, 'How am I going to make this funny for everybody,' " he says with his darling smile. And then he does. The audience howls, while it squirms.
Babe Ruth, Michael Jackson, the Mormons, the Founding Fathers, even "The Star-Spangled Banner" come into his sights.
"The national anthem blows," says Tosh.
"Do any of you have it on your iPod?"
Absorbing, if not squirm-worthy, Breakout Kings starts with a couple of U.S. marshals who decide that it takes a convict to catch a convict. So they round up three noted former escapees to help them, offering reduced time in a minimum-security prison in return. Ancients may remember The Mod Squad.
There's nothing mod about this trio, the breakout character of which, Lloyd Lowery, is a psychiatric expert who seems to understand what everybody is up to.
Jimmi Simpson, the creepy Liam McPoyle in FX's subversive comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, plays Lowery. Malcolm Goodwin plays the slick mastermind. Don't get too attached to the female con artist in Sunday's pilot. She'll be replaced in Episode 2.
Accompanied by their handlers, they'll go after a different escapee every week. Some of them turn out to have been wrongly convicted.
Not so with one named T-Bag, who appears in a coming episode. Robert Knepper reprises his Prison Break role as one of the most heinous (and appealing) TV characters of the young millennium, and any show that brings him along for the ride is probably worth checking out.
Daniel Tosh: Happy Thoughts
9 p.m. Sunday on Comedy Central
10 p.m. Sunday on A&E
Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ jonathanstorm.