Royal drama reigns supreme on Showtime

They’re trying not to lose their heads over at Showtime in the wake of big numbers for the premiere of “The Tudors.”

Feevee cabler’s high-profile, big- budget costume drama notched 870,000 viewers with its Sunday premiere, more than three times the net’s 2006 primetime average and well above the debuts of recent success stories “Dexter” and “Weeds.”

Add in 404,000 more who tuned in for an 11 p.m. encore of “The Tudors,” and Showtime said it had it best series debut night in three years, since the bow of laffer “Fat Actress.”

Strong debut makes it more likely Showtime will move forward with a second season of the Ben Silverman-produced skein, though no decisions have been made. For now, execs were simply relieved to have successfully launched “The Tudors,” which easily ranks as the most expensive series in the cabler’s history.

“I’m wearing a crown today,” quipped Showtime entertainment prexy Robert Greenblatt.

While maintaining the standard pay cable line that ratings aren’t what matters most, Greenblatt admitted Nielsen numbers ain’t chopped liver, either.

“The press and the buzz that the show generated is already a victory for us, but it’s nice to know there’s an audience as well,” he said. “We can have our cake and eat it, too.”

Showtime’s recent skeins have been on an upward ratings trajectory.

Compared with last year’s bow of “Dexter,” for example, first run of “The Tudors” lured 44% more viewers. Premiere of “The Tudors” was 78% above what Showtime scored two years ago with the series debut of “Weeds.”

Cabler said it’s also encouraged by the sampling the skein got via its on-demand and Showtime.com platforms. It says more than 1 million people caught part of the show on those platforms, and expects that number to grow substantially once figures from online partners such as AOL and Yahoo! are counted.

A Monday encore also scored above-average numbers, generating 340,000 viewers, Greenblatt said.

Greenblatt said he’ll decide “pretty quickly” on a second season for “The Tudors.” Exec had quietly ordered additional scripts in advance of the premiere; six are already in the can.

If greenlit, second season of “Tudors” will begin shooting this summer for a spring 2008 debut.

Big test for “The Tudors” is still to come. Cablers such as HBO and Showtime have proved adept at luring auds to premiere episodes, only to see tune-in drop substantially in subsequent weeks.

If the show does work, it’ll mark another success — and the first in pay cable — for exec producer Silverman and his Reveille shingle. Company’s current slate includes “Ugly Betty,” “The Office” and “Biggest Loser.”

International homevideo and TV rights were scooped up several months ago by Peter Schlessel’s worldwide acquisitions unit at Sony Pictures. As a result, “The Tudors” will be top of the heap for Sony Pictures TV Intl. to license abroad during the upcoming Mip TV trade show in Cannes.

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