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Ads help auds bite into ‘True Blood’

Vamp series nabs record ratings for HBO

An elaborate marketing campaign paid off handsomely for “True Blood,” which opened its second season Sunday as the most-watched program on HBO since the finale of “The Sopranos” two years ago.

The vampire drama drew 3.7 million viewers for the 9 p.m. airing and 1.4 million more for the 11 p.m. telecast, making for the largest Sunday audience for an episode of the series.

The 9 p.m. showing was up 157% vs. the series premiere Sept. 7 and up 51% in comparison to the Nov. 23 finale.

“It even surpassed our expectations,” Michael Lombardo, president of the HBO programming group and West Coast operations, told Daily Variety. “What we saw last season was a phenomenon that grew by word of mouth and that has continued. People who finished with the show brought friends with them. The word had gotten out.”

Numbers will undoubtedly rise significantly when the cumulative figures are added for the week, which will include those watching on DVRs and video-on-demand. Skein will air 11 times over seven days, and the total-viewer tally could land at around 10 million.

Last season’s “True Blood” averaged 2 million viewers for each Sunday night episode, compared to 1.9 million for “Big Love” and 1.7 million for “Entourage.”

“The Sopranos” drew 11.9 million viewers for its June 10, 2007, finale.

“True Blood” is also hot in ancillary markets. The first-season DVD was released on May 19 and is the bestselling TV series on disc for the year, while the series is No. 1 on the iTunes charts for TV episodes purchased.