Was ‘The Sopranos’ the Most Popular Show in HBO’s History?

Going by the level of interest in the upcoming film prequelThe Sopranos retains a firm grip on its audience 20 years after its debut on HBO. Anyone who’s gone back and revisited the show in recent years knows why that is. In brief, the creative team and cast rarely faltered.

New audiences waiting to stream the next episode on HBO or Amazon Prime may have an idea what it was like to anticipate a new installment from 1999-2007. But viewers today may not be aware just how popular the show was when it first aired.

Since you had to watch The Sopranos “by appointment only” on Sunday nights, the show posted the sort of ratings for season premieres no HBO series has matched since. In its heyday, the show’s Season Three opener actually topped 22 million viewers.

However, counting by weekly audience over an entire season, The Sopranos does not hold the all-time ratings record for an HBO show.

‘The Sopranos’ holds multiple HBO ratings records.

Shot from ‘The Sopranos’ | HBO

Over its eight-year run, The Sopranos set a number of HBO ratings records. Among them was the eye-popping 22.6 million viewers who tuned in for the 2001 season premiere. According to Nielsen ratings reported by Business Insider, no other HBO show ever topped 20 million.

Once you add in streaming and DVR viewing, the Game of Thrones Season Seven premiere hit 16.1 million, which is remarkable but sits well shy of the record. Of course, The Sopranos did not have the chance for the additional audience (outside of unmeasured manual recordings).

The show’s Season Four (13.4 million) and Season Five (12.1 million) premieres also ranked among the top five for the network. Rounding out the list was the Sex and the City Season Four premiere (12.4 million) in June 2001.

Going by total viewers per season, the Sopranos also held that record for 12 years before Game of Thrones set a new standard.

‘Game of Thrones’ has the record with an average of 30 million viewers in 2017.

Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti and Drea de Matteo as Adriana La Cerva star in HBO’s hit television series, ‘The Sopranos.’ | HBO

While the premiere numbers tell one part of the story, the average viewers per show determines the all-time HBO ratings king. In 2002, The Sopranos established a new standard with an average of 18.2 million viewers per show. That record stood until 2014, when Game of Thrones broke it during Season Four (18.4 million).

Subsequent seasons had Game of Thrones setting new records every time out. By Season Seven, it surpassed an average of 30 million viewers per show across the season. As you look at the totals GoT has posted in recent years, it’s remarkable the way the show increased its viewership every time out.

In fact, The Sopranos’ premiere record may fall when the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones airs on April 14. Until then, The Sopranos will continue to lord over its wildly successful successor.

Once Game of Thrones finishes its run on HBO, we suppose fans can start comparing prequels. The Many Saints of Newark should hit theaters sometime in the coming year after filming this spring.

Production of the Game of Thrones prequel series, which will air on HBO, also begins in early 2019.

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