Six Feet Under handily bested the debuts of other vaunted HBO series, including Sex and the City, Arliss, and even The Sopranos: 3.8 million households and approximately 5.1 million viewers tuned in to HBO's groundbreaking drama.
A daring, noir dramedy about the Fischers, a South Californian family that runs a funeral parlor and put the "fun" back in "dysfunctional," Six Feet Under is the dark brainchild of American Beauty writer Alan Ball. Ball won an Academy Award for original screenplay for American Beauty.
Death, not-so-secret family secrets and suburban angst dominate the series, which features a fine cast and a habit-forming tone of quiet desperation. Especially powerful are Peter Krause (TV's Sports Night) and Lauren Ambrose (In & Out) as rebellious screw-up kids and Frances Conroy (Sleepless in Seattle, The Crucible) as the moody, demure mom.
Sex and the City, though, is at least partly responsible for Six's record numbers, providing a solid lead-in for the new series.
Sex debuted it's fourth season with two new half-hour episodes from 9 to 10 p.m., immediately prior to Six's screening. The new Sex episodes scored big, garnering a 13.2 share (4.4 million homes, approximately 6.2 million viewers), which is a new record for the series. Six, despite the late time start, was able to retain 84% of that audience.
The previous record for Sex and the City had been a 9.9 rating last October. This year's Sex and the City premiere was almost 50% higher than last year.
Despite being outnumbered in viewable homes 100 million to 32 million, HBO outdistanced any of the major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in women aged 18-34 during that hour. HBO's success on Sunday night cannot be denied.
The Sopranos remains HBO's greatest commercial success, commanding 9.5 million viewers for its season finale on May 20.
In related news, HBO will be hitting the T&A scene during prime time again in a pilot for Nerve. The series will be based on the sex-crazed, somewhat-risqué-but-not-completely-satisfying Web site of the same name. Using both live action and animation, the Nerve pilot is reportedly a combination of reality and fantasy centering on an obsession with human sexuality.
HBO has done risqué reality-based shows before, but not for the prime time slot. Most of the show will be unscripted and reality based.