'Entourage' audience expands

The last season of “The Sopranos” kicked off on HBO Sunday night with 7.66 million total viewers — a solid audience but well below the 9.47 million drawn to the first episode of its previous season in March 2006.

The adults 18-49 number also was down to a 3.6 rating from a 4.5 a year ago. But the 3.6 was still good enough for second place in the time period, behind an original episode of “Desperate Housewives” on ABC, which averaged a 6.1.

While “Sopranos” was not quite measuring up to its year-ago numbers, the premiere of the third season of “Entourage,” which scored 3.77 million viewers, was up 40% over the viewer number for the second-season kickoff.

Dave Baldwin, exec VP of programming planning for HBO and Cinemax, said HBO will be in good shape when it adds up the rating of each “Sopranos” episode for the seven additional runs during the six days following the Sunday-at-9 premiere, plus all of the call-ups “Sopranos” draws from subscribers to HBO On Demand.

Since HBO doesn’t accept advertising, Baldwin said, the rating of the premiere run is not as important to HBO as it is to an ad-supported network that uses the Nielsen numbers to drive revenue from Madison Avenue.

Meanwhile, there was mixed news for Showtime’s second episode of “The Tudors.”

Facing off against tougher competish this week, Sunday’s seg attracted 775,000 combined viewers between its two telecasts. That’s down 39% from the skein’s premiere night a week ago, when 1.28 million viewers watched the show.

The good news: “Tudors” is still tracking on par with Showtime’s last big series, “Dexter.” That skein averaged 719,000 viewers in its second outing, falling 31% from its bow. Viewing levels also increased as the episode unfolded, indicating viewers liked what they saw.

Showtime on Tuesday also touted final weeklong ratings for its multiple airings of the “Tudors” premiere. All told, skein attracted 2.05 million viewers over its several airings, a 9% gain over what “Dexter” averaged its first week.

(Josef Adalian in Hollywood contributed to this report).

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