LOS ANGELES – When "The Sopranos" (search) finally arrives next year for its sixth season, fans of the HBO (search) mob drama will get more than they expected.
Eight "bonus" episodes are planned in addition to the 12 previously announced for the series, set to return in March 2006 after nearly two years without a first-run episode, HBO said Thursday.
Read FOX 411's December Prediction for Extra Sopranos
"When something is as remarkable as 'The Sopranos,' our audience would like to see it continue as long as possible, so we are thrilled that (series creator) David Chase felt there are more stories to be told," HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht said in a statement.
There will be a break between the first set of episodes and the arrival of the extra eight hours in January 2007, HBO said.
The premium cable channel avoided tagging the newly announced episodes as part of a seventh season and also declined to label them the final ones.
The upcoming season was to have been the series' last but there have been hints the end wasn't necessarily in sight.
With powerhouse series "Sex and the City" gone and "Six Feet Under" about to wrap, HBO would be glad to keep "The Sopranos" alive, but the series' fate is considered to be in Chase's hands.
"The Sopranos" stars James Gandolfini (search) as mob boss Tony Soprano and Edie Falco as his wife, Carmela. The series, which won four Emmy Awards including best drama series in 2004, isn't competing this year because it didn't air during the eligibility period.
The intermission between last season and the upcoming one will end up totaling a viewer-frustrating 21 months: The fifth year concluded in June 2004, although reruns have been airing.