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Housewives, DVRs, VOD Topple Mob

For its sixth-season premiere, The Sopranos took a sizable ratings hit.

Home Box Office’s mob series pulled in 9.5 million viewers and a 19.2 rating/25 share within the premium programmer’s universe Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

That represented a 21.5% drop from the 12.1 million viewers who tuned in the fifth-season premiere March 7, 2004, when the series -- starring James Gandolfini as New Jersey mafia boss Tony Soprano -- scored a 23.8 rating/32 share in HBO homes.

Among the culprits: the ladies of Wisteria Lane. Competing in the same 9 p.m. Sunday time slot, ABC’s Desperate Housewives attracted 22.2 million viewers.

HBO executives -- citing Housewives, the proliferation of digital-video recorders and the growth of HBO On Demand from 4 million homes during the fifth season of The Sopranos to its current count of 10 million -- anticipated a drop in the premiere performance of cable’s top-rated series.

Meanwhile, the debut of polygamy series Big Love -- starring Bill Paxton as a husband serving three wives and families -- registered 4.6 million viewers and a 10.2 rating/14 share in HBO homes in the hour following The Sopranos’ premiere.

Measured against the debut of Deadwood, which led out from the David Chase show in 2004, Big Love also came up short: The Western garnered 5.8 million viewers and a 12.5 rating/18 share two years ago.