Is Tony Soprano past his prime? Sunday's Season 6 closer for "The Sopranos" was the HBO mob drama's lowest-rated finale since its first season back in 1999.
An average of 8.9 million total viewers tuned in, down 19% compared with the previous season finale in June 2004, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research.
The first-season finale, in April 1999, averaged 5.2 million viewers. Since then, every season ender had delivered at least 9 million viewers, after adjusting for rounding; the best, the Season 4 wrap-up in December 2002, notched 12.5 million.
Overall, average ratings for this season's 12 episodes dipped 12%, to 8.6 million total viewers, compared with last season.
"Sopranos" has been buffeted this season by complaints of weak stories, and disappointed fans singled out the Sunday finale as particularly uneventful. The series is set to return in 2007 with eight final episodes.
Mandel deals NBC a winning hand
The finale news was better elsewhere. NBC got 18 million viewers to turn out for Monday's season closer of "Deal or No Deal." That's the most-watched episode ever for Howie Mandel's game show, according to early data from Nielsen Media Research. (The ratings in adults aged 18 to 49 were great too: 5.5 rating/17 share.) An appearance by Celine Dion and a top prize of $5 million obviously helped.
"Deal's" strong signoff bodes well for NBC's recently rejiggered fall lineup. The game show is currently set to face off against two monster hits at 9 p.m. Thursdays: CBS' male-skewing "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and ABC's female-friendly "Grey's Anatomy." My guess is that "Deal" will give NBC a strong shot of staying competitive in the hour -- and, by extension, on Thursdays. "Deal" will also run Mondays, so it's possible viewers could tire of the concept -- or Mandel -- by midseason.
NBC also devoted 90 minutes to the season finale of "The Apprentice," and there the news wasn't so good. With a 4.4 rating/12 share in adults aged 18 to 49, it was the lowest-rated of the five "Apprentice" cycles so far, and had to work to hold off a threat from a repeat of CBS' "CSI: Miami." "Miami" actually beat "Apprentice" in total viewers, 11.6 million vs. 11 million, in head-to-head competition at 10 p.m.
Contact reporter Scott Collins at email@example.com.