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HBO hopes for more ‘Sopranos’

Albrecht optimistic as Chase hasn't said no

Never say die: HBO topper Chris Albrecht still hopes he can squeeze a few more episodes out of “The Sopranos” and creator David Chase.

That’s a good sign for fans, who face an 18-month wait before HBO bows the final season of the smash mob drama.

Speaking to reporters Thursday during the cable portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour, Albrecht said new episodes were still scheduled to premiere as early in 2006 “as it makes sense.”

But, he added, the pay cabler is still courting Chase about producing a few more episodes than the promised final 10 segs.

“David Chase hasn’t said no,” Albrecht told reporters. “I’m encouraging it. Until the last episode airs, I’m hopeful.”

In the meantime, Albrecht revealed that “Deadwood” creator David Milch would like to bring back his hourlong Western every 12 months.

“It’s what he is used to doing. He gets up in the morning to start writing. And we’re happy to fulfill his need,” he said. “(His show is) coming back in March — God bless him.”

Albrecht also put the kibosh on speculation that “Sex and the City” may continue. Exec explained that everyone involved had agreed to move forward on a pic, but that when scribe Michael Patrick King needed an extension to finish the script all but one member of the cast, actress Kim Cattrall, was willing to wait.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” he said.

‘Wired’ out

Albrecht admitted that he was frustrated that critically hailed crime hour “The Wire” got shut out of Emmy competition for the second time. It was one of the few TV academy oversights for HBO, which scored a record busting 124 nominations last week.

As to the rest of HBO’s sked, net gave a go-ahead to a second season of “Entourage,” the half-hour laffer that debuted Sunday to modest ratings, and a fifth cycle of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

HBO also announced that fresh segs of “Real Time With Bill Maher” arrive July 30 and that the third season of “The Wire” bows Sept. 19.

Hoax apology

Elsewhere, during the NBC U cable entertainment portion of tour, USA/Sci Fi Channel Bonnie Hammer again apologized for trying to fool the press by claiming that Sci Fi’s “unauthorized” biography about filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan was legit.

Sci Fi had claimed that Shyamalan refused to co-operate with producers of a documentary about his life — timed to run in promotion with his upcoming pic “The Village” — when things got too personal.

But the day before the special aired last week, Sci Fi finally admitted that the special was a hoax, dreamed up by the channel’s marketing team.

“If I had a time machine to change things, I would. But I don’t and I can’t,” Hammer said. “It just went too far. It’s been a very painful lesson. I can assure you it will never happen again.”

Beyond the mea culpas, Hammer said her priority as head of USA and Sci Fi would be to better refine both channels’ images and slates.

On the programming tip, Hammer confirmed that Sci Fi had picked up a second season of the animated skein “Tripping the Rift,” featuring the voice of Gina Gershon. She also announced that the network would devote its Wednesday night schedule to reality TV starting in October.

On tap for the night is the forensics series “Proof Positive,” “Ghost Hunters,” a series about real-life Ghostbusters from the creator of “American Chopper,” and a new season of “Scare Tactics” with new host Stephen Baldwin.

Channel also announced it would unleash the Saturday night movie franchise “Saturday Action,” with two actioners set to debut per month starting next year.

In other TCA news, Bravo has picked up a fourth season of “Celebrity Poker Showdown” for fall. Skein averages more than a million viewers per episode.

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