UPDATE: *HBO has added a surprise 9th episode to the eight of what’s billed as The Sopranos final season this spring. Premiere date just set: April 9th.* Last night’s sanitized start of the profanity- and graphic sex / violence-free syndication of The Sopranos on the A&E network was the most watched off-network series premiere in cable history. First show of the still ongoing HBO drama attracted 4.3 million viewers — even though “friggin” was the go-to curse word and the scenes of sex and violence were re-shot or edited to be cable compliant. But those numbers will change come February when ABC’s Lost returns with new episodes. Then drama fans will have a quandary. Remember, back in 2005, A&E broke the bank and paid a record $2.5 mil per episode for Tony et al. But instead of stuffing commercials into the shows, the network’s sales capo Mel Berning decided to go for a “theatrical viewing experience” — a handful of pricey sponsorship packages, the most expensive of which sold for as much as $50 million, according to Advertising Age. He also kept the number of ad pods to a minimum. Y’day’s two-episode premiere was slated to run with only six breaks compared to the usual eight to 10. Additionally, two of the pods featured only one sponsor. A&E also tailored the ad spots with mob references.
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