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Slow Start in Ratings for 'Sopranos,’ 'The Shield’

The latest seasons of two of cable’s most venerable shows haven’t gotten off to a fast start in the ratings.

Indeed, the first episode of the final run of The Sopranos didn’t kill with the Nielsens, as Home Box Office’s April 8 premiere of “Soprano Family Movies” pulled in 7.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data. That was off 19% from the 9.5 million who tuned in for the first entry of season six on March 12, 2006.

Meanwhile, FX’s gritty cop drama, The Shield, which stars Michael Chiklis and features Academy Award winner Forrest Whitaker, averaged a 1.4 household rating a rating and drew 2.3 million viewers April 10, slightly above its 1.3 rating and 2 million viewers for its April 3 season premiere, per Nielsen.

Both episodes were well below the show’s 2.3 household rating and 2.8 million viewer averages for its fifth season, which ran from January to March 2006.

For the much hyped nine-episode farewell run of the The Sopranos, the Easter-night debut also fell short of the 8.9 million viewer average for the first half of its sixth season — a 12-episode premiere run — last spring.

Executives at the premium channel said they were not disappointed by the opening number for the second half of the show’s sixth and final campaign, preferring instead to tally the episode’s seven other runs on HBO and HBO2 last week.

During the first half of season six, HBO executives said the series had a cumulative 13.1 million viewers. In addition, more than 1 million viewers on average tuned in David Chase’s acclaimed mob series via HBO On Demand.

Meanwhile, the Nielsen news for Vince, E, Turtle, Drama and Ari was much stronger. Following The Sopranos’ lead-in, the starter of the second half of Entourage’s third season notched 3.8 million viewers in its 10 p.m. premiere on April 8, up 41% from the 2.7 million who clicked in the beginning of this campaign.

The Hollywood buddy series averaged 2.4 million viewers for its 12-episode premiere run, a total that cumed to 5.1 million once its multiple runs were counted, according to HBO officials.

Entourage will follow The Sopranos until the James Gandolfini-starrer’s finale June 10, when David Milch’s surfer series, John from Cincinnati, takes its bow down the pipe. The 12-episode fourth season of Entourage is scheduled to begin June 17.

The Shield has also suffered erosion among FX’s target 18-to-49 demo, as the first two episodes averaged 1.5 million viewers, down from 1.8 million during the fifth season.

But FX senior vice president of planning and research Steve Leblang said its performance shouldn’t be fully judged until the digital video recorder/time-shifting ratings are computed.

Time-shifted viewing for high-profile FX shows such as Dirt and The Riches represent as much as 15% to 20% of viewing per episode, he said. If such percentages apply to The Shield, Leblang said, the show could match or even surpass last season’s numbers.

“We have to get the full picture before we can make what I consider to be a fully objective comparison,” he said. “What we have seen so far is a 14% uptick in our core 18-49 demo week to week, which is encouraging.”

In other ratings news:

  • Discovery Channel’s reality series The Deadliest Catch cooled off slightly last week after setting a series record in its April 3 debut. The series’ April 10 installment garnered a 2.1 household rating, down from the 2.3 rating generated in its third-season debut.
  • TLC’s original series Little People, Big World made a big splash in its new Monday-night timeslot, averaging a series record 2.1 household rating and 2.9 million viewers in its April 9 one-hour debut of the backend episodes of its sophomore season. The network will air 18 episodes of the series, as well as four “lost episodes” from season one.

The show’s 22-episode first season, which aired during Saturdays in late 2006, averaged a 1.5 household rating.

TV One’s presentation of Roots helped the network to score the highest ratings in its history.

The Easter premiere of the 12-hour miniseries averaged a 1.1 household rating in the 8 to 10 p.m. time slot for the African-American-targeted network, averaging 586,000 total viewers, according to network executives.

Roots also set records among TV One’s target demographic, garnering a 0.73 rating among adults 18 to 49, a mark translating into 355,000 of those viewers.

Among African-American households, TV One posted a 6.2 rating during the 8 p.m.-10 p.m. telecast and a 5.4 rating for the encore.