About to hand the original-programming ball off to the network's top show, a trio of season finales produced big Nielsen Media Research numbers for Home Box Office.
The closing installments of Sex and the City's fifth season, Arli$$'s seventh season and The Wire's rookie campaign on Sept. 8 all outperformed their season averages.
That sets the table for the return of HBO's big gun: The Sopranos, which starts its fourth season on Sept. 15 at 9 p.m. (ET), after a 17-month hiatus from new episodes. The third season ended in May 2001.
The third-season debut of the Emmy-nominated comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, from Seinfeld-co-creator Larry David, follows the mob drama at 10 p.m., before turning the screen over to the sophomore bow of comedy Mind of the Married Man.
This continues the premium network's original-programming gambit on Sunday nights, which thrusts Sopranos, Curb
into the teeth of the new broadcast TV season later this month.
The Sarah Jessica Parker-starrer Sex
produced a 14.8 rating and a 21 share within the premium network's universe at 9 p.m. on Sept. 8, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That compares with a 14.4 season average — the best ever for the skein, which returns for a sixth campaign next June.
the Robert Wuhl-vehicle about a sports agent, scored a 9.7 and a 14 share at 9:30 p.m., easily outpointing its season averages of an 8.1 and a 12 share.
The Wire, which examines the intertwining worlds of narcotics, drug dealers and law-enforcement officials, completed its 13-epiosde run with a 7.9 rating and a 12 share, versus its season averages of 6.9 and an 11 share.
HBO has issued no official word about the renewal status for The Wire, which picked up ratings steam as the season progressed. A spokesman said new episodes of the show haven't dropped below a 7.0 average since July 21.
Chris Albrecht, now chairman and CEO of HBO, did tell reporters in July, "I don't expect that there's any bad news in the future for The Wire."
Similarly, HBO has not made an official announcement about the status of Arli$$.
has a gaudy Nielsen legacy. The premiere of the final segment of the third season on May 20, 2001, recorded an 18.7 rating and a 26 share in HBO's universe, drawing about 9.5 million viewers.
During its third season, The Sopranos
averaged a 17.3 rating in HBO homes for its Sunday premieres, up 27 percent from the 13.6 recorded during the second season. In the first campaign, it averaged an 8.3 for its initial installments.