PASADENA, Calif. – Fans of "The Sopranos" will have to wait a bit longer for the mob drama's final chapter.
Because of "unexpected" knee surgery for series star James Gandolfini, the concluding episodes that were expected to begin in January will be delayed about two months, HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht said.
The surgery alone would have pushed the season start back just a few weeks, but that would have put "The Sopranos" up against the football playoffs and the Super Bowl, Albrecht told a television critics' gathering Wednesday.
A specific air date for the Sunday-night series has yet to be determined but it's likely to be in early March 2007, he said.
A call to HBO about Gandolfini's surgery was not immediately returned Thursday. The actor, who plays mob boss Tony Soprano, was in a traffic accident in New York recently. A collision with a taxi knocked him off his scooter but he reportedly was able to walk away.
Albrecht joked Wednesday how much mayhem the last eight episodes from series creator David Chase could contain.
"I know you're all hoping that people die," he told the Television Critics Association, noting some have complained "that not enough people are dying and getting whacked in the show."
He promised the audience won't be disappointed in the conclusion.
"I know the story lines for the final eight, and I am absolutely positively certain that when the curtain comes down on `Sopranos,' the vast, vast, vast majority of people will say it's one of the great things of all time."
Viewers of the HBO series have been a patient lot. When "The Sopranos" returned last March, it was after a hiatus that was just three months shy of two years.
Albrecht denied that ratings fell for the just-concluded season, saying "the reverse is actually true."
"When you take into account the cumulative audience, not just from all the plays (repeat airings), but from HBO on Demand, there were more people watching last season than the season before," he said.
Albrecht also said that HBO will be offering debuts of its original series on HBO on Demand six days before they air on the HBO channel.