'Sopranos' finale draws second-highest audience

— The season finale of "The Sopranos" was the second most-watched episode of HBO's mob drama, with 12.5 million viewers tuning in as Carmela and Tony Soprano split.

The episode, which aired Sunday, drew a larger audience than any broadcast network show airing at the same time, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.

"This is a huge number by anyone's standards," David Baldwin, HBO's executive vice president for program planning, said Tuesday.

As last year, the finale proved a runner-up in ratings to the season premiere: "The Sopranos" drew its biggest-ever audience, 13.4 million, when it returned Sept. 15 for the fourth season.

Overall, the series was up 22 percent in viewership compared to last season.

In the finale, mob boss Tony (James Gandolfini) crossed the marital infidelity line once too often. Carmela (Edie Falco) threw him and his golf clubs out of their New Jersey home after hearing of a new indiscretion.

On the business front, Tony backed out of both a deal to buy a waterfront home and a plot to kill New York boss Carmine - the latter decision leaving fellow co-conspirator Johnny Sack very unhappy.

And the drawn-out legal battles waged by Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) came to a tidy end thanks to a hung jury (a certain frightened juror followed his orders from Tony's crew).

The episode, which included high-volume blasts of Dean Martin's crooning used as a weapon, ended to the bittersweet strains of "I Have Dreamed," the Richard Rodgers' tune.

Now everybody is miserable (including Uncle Junior), but none more than Tony and Carmela. Can their marriage be saved? Production on the fifth "Sopranos" season begins in January, but answers must await its return to the air next fall.

Series creator David Chase has said he intends to do just one more season of "The Sopranos," but noted that HBO holds the series' rights. HBO's Baldwin had no comment on its future.


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