Deadwood Blazes a Nielsen Trail

Home Box Office’s new Western series, Deadwood, came out blazing in the ratings.

The March 21 premiere of the David Milch-produced series shot up a 12.5 rating/18 share in the premium network’s universe and attracted 5.8 million viewers, the most ever for the debut of an HBO skein, network executives said.

That topped the 5.3 million viewers pulled in by Carnivale Sept. 14, 2003, which posted a 10.6 rating/15 share following the finale of the first half of Sex and the City’s sixth and last season.

The performance of Deadwood -- which drew heavily from the 10.1 million viewers who tuned in the third episode of The Sopranos’ fifth season that night -- was even more impressive when gauged in the context of the new measurement system for premium channels.

Since January, Nielsen Media Research has been separating figures for pay channels from their multiplex offspring.

In previous years, ratings represented rolled-up numbers from all feeds, which served to lift prior-year figures.