Premium Nets Ramp Up First Qtr. Premieres

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Home Box Office and Showtime squared off Nov. 30 with competing high-profile programming events: the season finale of the dark series Carnivale and the controversial telepic The Reagans.

HBO's series drew a 7.4 household rating within its universe, equaling the network's average for the 12-episode series, according to network executives.

The season-ending performance of Carnivale, which chronicled a 1930s Dust Bowl-era traveling carnival troupe and the forces of good and evil, fell well short of the 10.6 rating of its Sept. 14 premiere episode. That airing was the most-watched original series premiere in HBO history, capturing some 5.3 million viewers, besting the 5 million viewers who watched the debut of Six Feet Under.

An HBO spokeswoman said that the series drew consistent ratings throughout its run, but network executives have yet to commit to a second season.

A return run for freshman political series K Street was vetoed by both HBO and producer George Clooney, following a less-than-stellar ratings performance. The show, which combines fictional political consultants with real and current political bigwigs and issues, averaged a 4.5 rating.

Also failing to make the grade was HBO's sophomore series Project Greenlight. The premium TV leader failed to pick up a third season of the Matt Damon/Ben Affleck-produced series, which took a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a B-movie, said the network.

The cancellations preceded the much-anticipated return of several HBO powerhouse series during the first quarter: the first of the eight remaining Sex and The City episodes and the fourth-season debut of Curb Your Enthusiasm are on tap for Jan. 4.

The fifth season of The Sopranos is slated to begin March 7, with the new western series Deadwood saddling up two weeks later.

For its part, Showtime scored well with the premiere of The Reagans: Network executives said it was the service's highest-rated original film in two years, since the December 2001 premiere of another film about the former president, The Day Reagan Was Shot.

Showtime, which did not reveal ratings specifics, picked up the movie from Viacom Inc. sister network CBS three weeks ago, after the broadcaster pulled the then-miniseries from its schedule, due to pressure from conservative groups.

A Showtime spokeswoman said the movie's performance more than doubled the network's primetime average and quarter-hour ratings increased by more than 70%. Showtime was scheduled to air the movie — along with an accompanying roundtable forum discussing the film — Dec. 4 and Dec. 10.

The network will bring back several of its original series early next year: The Chris Isaak Show (Jan. 8), Family Business (Jan. 30) and the final season of Soul Food (sometime in February).

Also, Showtime will premiere its lesbian-oriented original series The L Word on Jan. 18.

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