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American Idol Invades Sopranos’ Turf

After killing the competition softly in its debut week, A&E Network’s The Sopranos is now facing the music from Fox’s American Idol.

A&E’s Jan. 24 two-episode installment of HBO’s popular mob-based series averaged a 1.9 household rating and 2.1 million viewers, well off the 3.9 rating (4.3 million viewers) garnered for the series’ Jan. 10 premiere and even with last week’s offering.

A&E executive vice president and general manager Robert DeBitetto said the network anticipated a drop-off from its debut rating -- particularly with the return of Idol, which drew 35 million viewers in its Jan. 17 premiere on Fox -- but the show’s numbers are stabilizing.

“It’s plateaued and stabilized, which is a great sign,” DeBitetto said. “We knew we’d be up against a phenomenon [in American Idol], but the show is where it is for very good strategic reasons that have a lot to do with maximizing revenue potential.”

A&E will soon face another formidable competitor beginning Feb. 7 when ABC’s hit drama, Lost, resumes its season. DeBitetto believes The Sopranos is up to the task.

“It’s very early, and we’re just three weeks into a four-plus-year relationship, but we are pleased with its performance,” he added. “It is an off-net show, and it does take time to establish the audience for it, but we have every expectation that we’ll be able to bring more people to The Sopranos as we get into its run on A&E and gets out of its direct competition [from American Idol and Lost].”

DeBitetto said The Sopranos -- along with original reality series such as Dog the Bounty Hunter and acquired series CSI: Miami -- helped the network to break into the top five among ad-supported networks in primetime for the month with a 1.3 household average through Jan. 24.

“The overall portfolio strategy for A&E is working,” he added. “We’re very pleased from a ratings and delivery point of view, and we’re extremely pleased from a revenue point of view.”