''Sopranos'' score record ratings for HBO. Sunday's season premiere was the most watched show in the cable channel's 30-year history
The Sopranos
Credit: The Sopranos: Barry Wetcher
James Gandolfini

Tony Soprano made viewers an offer they couldn’t refuse. After 16 months of waiting, they tuned into Sunday night’s premiere of ”The Sopranos”’ fourth season in record numbers. The show drew 13.4 million viewers, the biggest audience for any program in HBO’s 30-year history. In fact, it beat all network programming for the night and was the sixth most-watched show of the week, according to Nielsen.

Of course, Nielsen measures cable and network fare separately, so ”The Sopranos” didn’t actually get to mix it up on this week’s ratings chart with fare like the Pittsburgh vs. New England game on ABC’s ”Monday Night Football” (the week’s top show, with 19.1 million viewers) or two episodes of CBS’ ”CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (the two shows ahead of ”The Sopranos,” at Nos. 4 and 5). Which should make the networks happy, since Tony and Co. are already wreaking enough havoc with the nets’ Sunday night viewership.

Can ”Sopranos” rule next Sunday as well? Doubtful, since it’ll be up against the Emmys on NBC. At least the networks don’t have to worry about competition from the Mafia family there, since the show didn’t air any new episodes during the 2001-02 eligibility year. Instead, they’ll have to watch out for that other HBO family, the Fishers of ”Six Feet Under,” whose 23 nods makes it this year’s most nominated show.

James Gandolfini
The Sopranos
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