Finale hits ratings high for HBO

The “Sopranos” faithful turned out in force for the HBO mob drama’s final seg on Sunday, but a dizzying 70% of them bailed out of the premiere of unconventional family drama “John From Cincinnati.”

The 11.9 million viewers who checked out the “Sopranos” swan song at 9 was the fourth highest number since HBO premiered the mob drama in January 1999. The last time “Sopranos” scored as large an aud was for the season-five premiere in March 2004, when 12.1 million tuned in.

By contrast, “John From Cincinnati” ended up with only 3.45 million viewers at 10, including 1.93 million adults 18-49.

One possible comparison for the performance of “Cincinnati” is the March 2006 premiere of another hourlong HBO series, “Big Love,” which did much better in taking advantage of a powerful lead-in: the sixth season kickoff of “Sopranos.”

The 2006 “Sopranos” episode drew 9.75 million viewers at 9, and “Big Love” delivered a respectable 4.45 million at 10. “Big Love” held on solidly in the Nielsens throughout its first season, causing HBO to pick it up for a second cycle. The first episode premiered Monday.

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