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‘Huff,’ ‘Wire’ admired by crix, snubbed by rest

Pay cable

WHAT WORKED: In HBO’s case, does it really matter? For the first time by any net — broadcast or cable — profits surpassed $1 billion for 2004. To put that number in perspective, NBC’s highest profit ever was $500 million when “Friends” was at its zenith a few years back.

“The Wire” just finished up its 12-episode run and received mostly raves from critics around the country. Both tough and fulfilling for viewers in that the storylines are so complex and intertwined you can’t afford to miss a line of dialogue — much less an entire episode — the payoffs for hanging in there was huge. Skein was voted program of the year by Entertainment Weekly while Variety called it “a meticulously written, superbly acted program that demands undivided attention.”

Hollywood-insider “Entourage” was generally embraced by critics. While on the movie side, “Something the Lord Made” was the most-watched original pic of the year

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“The L Word” continues as Showtime’s top-rated show and the net also unveiled “Huff.” Co-star Oliver Platt gave Showtime its first ever Golden Globes nom in a series category for the latter skein.

WHAT DIDN’T: For all the glory that “The Wire” received, the ratings were still pretty awful. (It should be noted that HBO rejiggered its ratings system — measuring only one channel vs. the entire HBO universe — and all numbers were down.) Creator David Simon says chances of series renewal stand at 50-50.

“Entourage” nor the net’s first reality skein, “Family Bonds,” didn’t fare particularly well either and biopic “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,” despite four Globes noms, failed to connect.

Ratings were also down for the penultimate season of “Six Feet Under,” which closed in September. The first six months of the year were much better for the cabler, when “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” scored well while “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Deadwood” more than held their own.

Despite Showtime’s extensive and costly marketing campaign for “Huff,” viewers never gave Hank Azaria starrer a chance. Fewer than a half-million viewers tuned in for the premiere episode and the numbers went down from there. Also axed is Mandy Patinkin series “Dead Like Me,” which never caught on.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Despite the poor showing, give Showtime topper Robert Greenblatt points for showing confidence in “Huff,” renewing the series for a second term prior to its first-season launch.

The net also has, er, big plans for “Fat Actress” (March 7), starring Kirstie Alley. Half-hour skein is a hybrid of Hollywood reality and fiction, a la “Curb.” Also upcoming in April is 10 half-hours of “Weeds,” with Mary Louise-Parker as a marijuana-selling housewife.

HBO launched “Unscripted” and season No. 2 of “Carnivale” this past weekend; “Deadwood” returns in March.

One of the biggest projects of the year for the pay cabler will be original two-part miniseries “Empire Falls” in May. Starring Paul Newman, wife Joanne Woodward, Ed Harris and Helen Hunt, comedy centers on an economically depressed town in May and the folks that own the local restaurant.

In the fourth quarter comes HBO’s most-anticipated release, “Rome,” the megabudgeted series co-financed with the BBC.