The Sopranos sixth-season premiere earned 9.5 million total viewers and a 19.2 rating/25 share among HBO viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That was down from the show’s fifth-season premiere in 2004, which earned 12.1 million total viewers and a 12.5 rating/18 share.
While the show still attracts a lot of buzz, it’s now competing against ABC’s Desperate Housewives on Sunday nights. Since season five, HBO On Demand has expanded from 4 million to 10 million homes – between on-demand and the five other plays HBO planned to give The Sopranos’ episode in the week after its premiere, viewers may have chosen another program on Sunday night and figured they could catch The Sopranos at another time. Desperate averaged about 22 million viewers during the same time period.
Big Love, HBO’s new polygamy dramedy, held on to about half of its Sopranos lead-in, capturing 4.6 million total viewers and a 10.2 rating/14 share. That’s about on par with what Deadwood earned for its series premire coming out of The Sopranos’ season-five premiere in 2004 – it earned 5.8 million total viewers and a 12.5 rating/18 share.
Like The Sopranos, Big Love faced its own set of healthy competitors on Sunday night. ABC's Grey’s Anatomy averaged about 22 million total viewers. And VH1’s Flavor of Love finale earned 5.88 million total viewers from 10 to 11:30 p.m., making it the most-viewed basic-cable program for the entire week.
Lifetime’s new reality show Cheerleader Nation debuted in the same time slot, earning 1.58 million total viewers.