A&E’s Sopranos Sitdown Starts Tonight

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Viewers tuning in Wednesday night’s premiere of A&E’s syndicated The Sopranos will find less cursing than they would hear on the HBO version of the acclaimed mob drama and fewer commercial pods than normal on the basic-cable network.

Running the pilot and the series’ second episode back-to-back from 9 p.m. until about 11:10 p.m., A&E is only including five commercial breaks, according to Mel Berning, executive vice president of advertising sales.

In fact, the first pod won’t appear until about 40 minutes into the pilot, and it will house a two-and-a-half-minute trailer from a studio sponsor. The second episode will include three breaks.

Typically, a two-hour block of time would include as many as 10 commercial pods.

“We wanted to do something a little different. Part of it just feels right to present it that way, part of it is that we’d like to think we’ll get some of the HBO viewers accustomed to seeing The Sopranos. We wanted to have a little more of a theatrical experience,” Berning said.

Watchers tuning in right before the 9 p.m. start also will see Michael Imperioli, who plays Christopher Moltisanti, the nephew of crew leader Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) on the series, introduce the acclaimed show’s arrival on A&E as the credits of CSI: Miami are shrunk to one-third of the screen. Imperioli’s message: The premiere episodes will include limited commercials as viewers are welcomed to “join the family now.”

While additional pods could be included down the road, Berning said, “If we can achieve our financial goals, we would prefer to run fewer and shorter breaks. There are benefits that way to viewers and advertisers. All of the research shows that there will be better recall and viewer engagement with the commercials that way.”

A&E paid a record $2.5 million per episode -- more than in $190 million in total -- to become the exclusive syndicated home of The Sopranos back in February 2005.

The network reaped the benefits of offering commercial inventory inside The Sopranos, notching deals with such major sponsors as Paramount Pictures, Ford Motor, BMW North America and restaurant chain Sonic.

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