NEW YORK – Sunday's season premiere of The Sopranos was the most-watched show in HBO's 30-year history -- and whacked every network show in its time slot.
The fourth-season premiere averaged 7.9 million households -- that's a whopping 13.4 million viewers -- from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., as the mobsters-on-Prozac series returned after a 16-month hiatus.
More impressive is that HBO is seen in only one- third the homes that get ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- and The Sopranos beat its competition on all those networks.
The show even bested ESPN's traditionally top-rated Sunday-night NFL game, which averaged 11.3 million viewers.
And the 13.4 million viewers who watched The Sopranos on Sunday dwarfed the number for last season's premiere, which netted 11.3 million viewers in 6.8 million households.
On Sunday's show, mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) dealt with money problems (both with Uncle Junior and wife Carmella); his wild-child daughter, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), was deciding what to do with her life; and Christopher (Michael Imperioli) continued to take care of business (and feed a growing drug habit).
Also back was Tony's wacky sister, Janice (Aida Turturro) and the rest of the Sopranos crew, including Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico), in jail in Ohio; Silvio (Steven Van Zandt); and Ralph (Joe Pantoliano).
The Sopranos had been off the air since wrapping its third season in May 2001.
Series creator David Chase said he needed more time to sculpt a fourth season, and his efforts appear to have paid off.
The mobsters easily blew away their rivals.
After the ESPN game came NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent, with 10.8 million viewers, followed by Fox's The Lost World (9.4 million viewers), and ABC's Notting Hill (7.9 million).