HBO's 'Sopranos' Almost Whacks the Broadcast Networks

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Broadcast TV narrowly missed being trumped in the ratings last week by a pay-cable show available in fewer than a third of the country's TV homes. Only one show stood in the way of the Sunday premiere of HBO's "The Sopranos" season finale and its 12 million viewers -- NBC's season debut of "America's Got Talent" with 13 mil. That's ironic, given that "Sopranos" creator David Chase devoted swaths of the finale to sneering at Americans' obsession with reality TV.

Here's a look at the week's Tonys and Phils:


"The Sopranos." The cut-to-black finale of the HBO series that had fans so knicker-knotted is possibly the show's fourth-largest audience, though we may never know for sure. It's like this: The fourth season opened with 13.4 million viewers in September '02 and closed with 12.5 million in December '02, and Season 5 opened with 12.1 million viewers in March '04, according to Nielsen stats. But before '04, Nielsen included all of HBO's various channels in one HBO number -- don't ask. We can say with certainty that the controversial finale was the week's second-most-watched program, behind "America's Got Talent," and that among 18-to-49-year-old viewers -- the Holy Grail of TV -- the mob drama's bow-out was the week's most-watched program. Here's where we point out HBO is in only about 32 million homes, compared with 111 million for the broadcast nets.

"America's Got Talent." And speaking of Americans' obsession with reality TV, this returning NBC series, minus Brandy but plus Sharon Osbourne, set a series record. It was also the biggest summer series debut so far this year -- 13 million viewers.

"So You Think You Can Dance." Fox's competition on Thursday delivered its biggest audience yet, more than 11 million viewers.

"Hell's Kitchen." In its third-season debut last Monday the Fox reality series logged its biggest opening audience to date, more than 8 million viewers (this past Monday it did even better, scoring nearly 9 million).

"House of Payne." The second episode of TBS's new comedy became ad-supported cable's biggest sitcom telecast of all time when it logged nearly 6 million viewers Wednesday.

"Jericho." Twenty tons of peanuts and several thousand obsessed fans later, CBS agreed to order a handful of new episodes of its post-nuclear-explosion drama and put it on its midseason bench. Meanwhile, repeats will begin airing Fridays at 9 on July 6.


Tony Awards. Opposite "The Sopranos" swan song, CBS's broadcast of Broadway's trophy show sank to 6.2 million viewers, its smallest audience in the history of people-meter technology, which dates back to 1987.

Stanley Cup. Because this year play ended in just five games and two of them were telecast on Versus network (formerly Outdoor Life Network, formerly OLN), where they averaged just 673,000 viewers, this year's Stanley Cup averaged out at 1.73 million viewers, a new low and about 1 million viewers shy of last year's average.

"On the Lot." Fox execs were really wowed by the fact Steven Spielberg had waved his scepter over this reality series. Viewers, not so much. Last week, though Fox already cut its losses by collapsing the competition show and the results show into a single broadcast each week, it clocked a puny 3.2 million viewers.

"The Tudors." Showtime ran the final episode on Sunday at 10, right after the series finale of "The Sopranos" on HBO. It averaged 465,000 viewers, compared with 3.4 million for HBO's unveiling of "John From Cincinnati" in the same time slot. About 17.5 million homes subscribe to pay-cable network Showtime, compared with HBO's 32 million homes.

The week's 10 most-watched programs, in order, were: NBC's "America's Got Talent"; HBO's "The Sopranos"; CBS's "Two and a Half Men"; Fox's Thursday and Wednesday "So You Think You Can Dance"; NBC's "Deal or No Deal"; CBS's "CSI," "CSI: Miami," "60 Minutes" and "NCIS."

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