Home Box Office's original-series momentum soared on Sept. 15 as the season premieres of The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm
and Mind of the Married Man
all registered their highest ratings ever.
Indeed, the fourth-season debut of The Sopranos
that night at 9 p.m. pulled a 23.3 rating (31 share) in HBO homes, according to Nielsen Media Research data. With 7.9 million households and 13.4 million viewers, it was the most-watched program in the network's history, and the most-watched show on cable since a 1995 National Football League game on Turner Network Television drew 14.1 million viewers.
Larry David's comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm
also scored an 11 rating (16 share) in HBO homes at 10 p.m., easily surpassing a 6.3 rating (9 share) posted on Oct. 15, 2000. A network spokesman called Curb's third-season debut comparable to numbers turned in by the hit HBO drama Six Feet Under.
Mind of the Married Man
also did quite well, earning a 7.9 rating (12 share) to top its previous high of a 6.0 (8 share).
A year ago, The Sopranos
offered up a two-episode opener, which posted a 20.4 for its first hour and a 20.6 for hour two.
HBO officials said this season's premiere also beat all broadcast competition from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., including NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent
(7.8 million homes, 10.6 million viewers) and ESPN's Oakland Raiders-Pittsburgh Steelers NFL game.
HBO executive vice president for program planning David Baldwin said the episode, titled "All Debts Public and Private," was the highest-rated program on the network since a 1994 George Foreman-Michael Moorer heavyweight-championship boxing match.
"We've had higher-rated events in the eighties and the early nineties, but that's when the universe was a lot smaller and there wasn't as much competition," Baldwin said. "That was a time long ago and a land far away."
He called the show's 31 share "enormous in today's multichannel environment."
Competition will stiffen soon. NBC will air The Emmy Awards on Sept. 22; the full broadcast fall season starts the following week; and games 2 and 7 of Major League Baseball's World Series, to air on Fox, could conflict in October.
With four total repeats on HBO and HBO2 weekly, cumulative numbers for The Sopranos
are more important than premiere ratings.
"We're not in the advertising game. Ultimately, we want to satisfy our paying customers," Baldwin said. "We want to see if more subscribers are sending us checks when the series ends its fourth season in December."