The Sopranos Storm Italy

Stuck in a midweek, midnight time slot, it looked like curtains for The Sopranos in Italy.

But the first episode of the award-winning mob drama drew such high ratings Wednesday that the Mediaset network is broadcasting it again, and has moved the show to Saturday nights for the rest of the season.

The Sopranos pulled in nearly a quarter of the late-night viewing audience nationwide about a million people, said Andrea Quinzi, a spokesman for Canale 5, one of the network's channels.

The show aired from 12:30-1:30 a.m., about 30 minutes late because the previous programming ran long. Despite the hour, Quinzi said, "it was a great success."

The series about a New Jersey mob family just ended its third season on the HBO cable network and has won several Emmys, including a best-actor award last year for star James Gandolfini. But it also has drawn criticism from some Italian-Americans, who have said the show stereotypes them.

Quinzi said he doesn't expect such complaints in Italy. "Italians know who they are. This is a problem for Italian-Americans, not for us," he said.

The Italian version of The Sopranos has been dubbed into the mother tongue, so much of the distinctive flavor of the original the thick New Jersey accents, the "mobspeak" is lost.

Older characters in the dubbed version speak in a Neapolitan dialect, while younger ones speak standard Italian sprinkled with Neapolitan expressions, such as "Madonna Mia!"

Quinzi said Canale 5 decided to air The Sopranos late at night "because of the program's scenes, plot and events."

The show is now being moved into the "more reasonable" time slot of 11:30 p.m. Saturdays, he said. Canale 5 will rebroadcast the first episode on June 2 for new viewers instead of airing the second episode.

There was a conspicuous lack of publicity about the debut especially compared to the massive campaign the network mounted for the hugely successful Italian version of the reality show Big Brother.

The only reaction to The Sopranos so far has been the overnight ratings. The show aired too late for Italian TV critics to meet deadlines for daily papers, and the chat rooms have yet to buzz.

Mediaset, Silvio Berlusconi's vast financial empire, has bought all 13 episodes of the first season of The Sopranos. Quinzi would not say what they cost.

Berlusconi is expected to become Italy's next premier soon, following an election victory earlier this month.