HBO’s high note

'Sopranos' finale sets cable records

NEW YORK — The much-anticipated season finale of “The Sopranos” whacked the competition on Sunday night with the largest audience for any HBO original series program, giving HBO its highest rating since the premiere of “Titanic.”

The mob-family drama closed its second season with a 17.6 rating/22 share in HBO homes, the highest “Sopranos” rating ever. The season opener held the previous top spot with a 16.2/21. Last year’s season finale of “The Sopranos” rated a 12.6/18 and was watched by 5.2 million viewers. The “Titanic” premiere earned an 18.3/30 in April 1999.

Sunday’s total viewer count (9 million) dwarfs last season’s average 3.43 million and ranks the episode as the most-watched series ever on cable, according to HBO.

In HBO homes, “The Sopranos” outrated all the network competish. Among viewers who have HBO, ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” earned a 13.8/18; CBS’ live version of “Fail Safe” garnered a 10.6/14; Fox’s “The X-Files” rated a 6.7/9; and NBC’s broadcast of “My Fellow Americans” came in last with a 3.5/5. HBO is viewed in approximately 31% of the country’s TV households. HBO says it has 24 million subscribers.

Created by David Chase, “The Sopranos” has become the most-talked about series of the past two years. Its two seasons of 13 episodes each have received considerable critical acclaim and earned Emmys, Golden Globes and other awards for the creative team and series’ actors.

“The Sopranos” third year will not debut until March 2001, but HBO has ordered 26 original episodes for next season.

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