NEW YORK (AP) -- HBO drew the largest audience in its 30-year history for Sunday night's season premiere of "The Sopranos," a turnout that sent tremors through the television world.
The episode drew an estimated 13.4 million viewers, and was believed to be the first time an HBO telecast drew a larger audience than any of the broadcast networks at the same time.
HBO, as a pay cable service, is available in about one-third of the nation's homes with televisions.
"This is higher than I thought we had the potential to reach," said David Baldwin, HBO's executive vice president for program planning. The show appeared to bring in a lot of viewers who might not otherwise have been watching television for the night, he said.
HBO's previous audience peak came for a Mike Tyson heavyweight fight in 1989, the network said.
Network executives were nervous about the 16-month break between new episodes of the mob drama. Instead, the wait only appeared to whet the audience's appetite for the fourth season.
The show's third season premiere was its previous high-water mark in the ratings, with an estimated 11.3 million viewers.
The numbers threatened to overshadow next week's start of the broadcast networks' new fall season. This was the first time HBO began a run of new "The Sopranos" episodes in the fall.
More than the ratings, Baldwin said HBO is eager to see whether the attention will translate into new paying subscribers -- the basis of HBO's business.
The return of "Monday Night Football," which had a little more than 19 million viewers on ABC, was the week's most popular prime-time program.
For the week, CBS averaged 9.6 million viewers (6.6 rating, 11 share), ABC averaged 9 million viewers (6.0, 10), NBC had 7.9 million (5.5, 10), Fox had 7.1 million (4.4, 8), UPN had 3.4 million and the WB had 3.2 million (both 2.1, 4) and Pax TV had 1.5 million (1.1, 2).
NBC's "Nightly News" won the evening news ratings race, averaging 9.2 million viewers (6.7 rating, 14 share). ABC's "World News Tonight" had 8.8 million viewers (6.3, 14) and the "CBS Evening News" had 7.5 million (5.3, 11).
A ratings point represents 1,067,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 106.7 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.