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‘Sopranos’ premiere ratings sing

7.64 million viewers watch HBO mob drama

Sunday’s second-season premiere of “The Sopranos” has hit a high note, collecting big, if not huge, paybacks on HBO’s gigantic marketing push behind the acclaimed made-for-cable hour.

Sunday’s “Sopranos” Nielsens topped that series’ previous-best results by 29% in households, 42% in adults 18-49 and 55% in adults 18-34.

The mob-family drama opened its second season with a 16.2 rating, 22 share in HBO homes, nearly double last season’s average 8.3/11. Sunday’s total viewer count (7.64 million) is more than twice last season’s average 3.43 million.

By comparison, last week’s highest-rated program on any of the dozens of ad-supported cable services was USA’s Monday WWF Wrestling, which bodyslammed a 6.8/11 in the 77% of the homes that receive USA.

HBO is viewed in 31% of the country’s TV households, so “Sopranos’ ” 16.2/22 in HBO homes projects to a 5.0/7 nationally. In adults 18-49, “Sopranos’ ” national 3.9/8 approximately tied NBC and beat the WB for that hour, despite the huge distribution disparity between the feevee service and the broadcast nets.

Still, “Sopranos’ ” impact on its broadcast competition was less than dramatic — “The X-Files” improved by 1% on its previous-week 18-49 rating (8.7/18 vs. 8.6/18) while “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” slipped by 2% (9.4/19 vs. 9.6/20). “Sopranos” might have been a factor in the ho-hum numbers for a Sunday preview of CBS’ “City of Angels” (4.7/10 in adults 18-49), which ran a half-hour into the “Sopranos” slot in the East.

Previous “Sopranos” records were all set with the show’s first-season finale on April 4, which skimmed off a 12.6/18 in homes, a 7.9/17 in adults 18-49 and a 6.9/17 in adults 18-34. Sunday’s season opener improved on those figures with averages of 16.2/22, 11.2/21 and 10.7/22, respectively.

USA Network’s “The Mary Kay Letourneau Story,” meanwhile, has netted that service’s biggest made-for-cable movie rating since “Moby Dick” set records back in March 1998.

Tuesday’s pic earned a 5.6 rating in the 77% of the country that receives USA Network, making it basic-cable’s top-rated movie since TBS’ “The Wizard of Oz” (6.4) on Nov. 21, and the top-scoring made-for-basic-cable movie since TNT’s “You Know My Name” (6.4) on Aug. 22.

USA hasn’t done better with a made-for-cable pic since “Moby Dick” harpooned an 8.1 back in March 1998. “Moby” hooked an average 11 million viewers, giving it basic cable’s biggest-ever non-sports, non-news original-fare audience, according to USA.