Big last meal for 'Sopranos'

11.9 mil watch abrupt series finale

The series finale of "The Sopranos" drew 11.9 million viewers to HBO on Sunday night to see what happened to TV's favorite mobsters, according to Nielsen Media Research.

It was the highest rating for a "Sopranos" episode since the Season 5 opener March 7, 2004, when 12.1 million viewers watched. The record was the Season 4 premiere Sept. 15, 2002, when 13.4 million tuned in.

Sunday's conclusion, which aired at 9 p.m., also represented the highest adults 18-49 rating (representing an average of 7.1 million viewers in the demo) for "Sopranos" since June 6, 2004, when the fifth season ended. Sunday's ratings also were significantly higher than the week before, when 8 million viewers tuned in.

The final nine episodes of "Sopranos," which kicked off April 8, averaged 8.2 million viewers to rank as the lowest-rated season since the second season — from Jan. 16-April 9, 2000 — drew 6.6 million viewers. The ratings heyday for "Sopranos" was the fourth season, Sept. 15-Dec. 8, 2002, when 11 million viewers watched.

HBO's ratings have declined steadily since then.

Sunday's finale drew a mixed reaction from critics and viewers, who either liked the ambiguity or didn't like that the final shot was of Tony Soprano eating a quiet dinner with his family.

One high-ranking "Sopranos" fan responsible for many hit TV shows during the past 20 years, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, told a New York audience Tuesday that he loved the ending.

"I thought it was terrific," Moonves said. "Anybody who was looking for total resolution I don't think is an absolute fan of the show."

Moonves, who was responding to a question from writer Ken Auletta at a Newhouse School forum at the W Hotel in Manhattan, raced home Sunday night from the Tony Awards to watch the final episode. He said he appreciated the late homage to "The Godfather" but that he had no quibble with the ending.

"I thought it was wrapped up brilliantly," Moonves said.

Sunday night also marked the debut of HBO's new series "John From Cincinnati," from David Milch (HBO's "Deadwood"), which followed "Sopranos" at 10 p.m. The surf-noir drama averaged 3.4 million total viewers, marking a 71% drop-off from its high-profile lead-in.

Also at HBO, "Big Love" had its second-season premiere at 9 p.m. Monday, pulling in 2.2 million total viewers. That's off from its series premiere in March 2006 (4.6 million) and the show's Season 1 average (4.2 million), though it should be noted that "Big Love" last year was airing on a different night — Sundays — and had first-run episodes of "Sopranos" as its lead-in.

Elsewhere in premium cable, Showtime's "The Tudors" had its first-season finale at 10 p.m. Sunday. That episode drew 465,000 viewers, marking a 17% increase over the previous week, while a repeat broadcast at 11 p.m. averaged 203,000 viewers. Combined, the 10 and 11 p.m. telecasts grew 21% over the previous week.

Meanwhile, the second-season premiere of ABC Family's "Kyle XY" averaged 2.2 million viewers at 8 p.m. Monday, down slightly from the June 2006 series premiere (2.6 million) but on par with the Season 1 average. The episode also was basic cable's No. 2 program in the slot in persons 12-34 (845,000, up 9% over the Season 1 average) and females 12-34 (569,000, also up 9%) and improved its year-ago time period levels in several demos as well as in total viewers (up 57%).

Additionally, full ratings information for Lifetime's "Army Wives" that was released Tuesday shows that the second episode of the new drama series (which averaged 3.3 million viewers at 10 p.m. Sunday) ranked No. 1 among households in its slot with a 2.9 rating — a 100% retention from last week — as well as in women 25-54 (2.2 rating, 1.2 million viewers).

Paul J. Gough reported from New York; Kimberly Nordyke reported from Los Angeles.
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