By Reporter
CNBC
updated 3/10/2006 6:06:40 PM ET 2006-03-10T23:06:40

After a two-year hiatus, the sixth and possibly final season of the popular HBO mobster series “The Sopranos” begins on Sunday night.

But this season, Tony Soprano and his gang will have a new subplot and some new competition to contend with. It’s a turf war, not with rival wise guys, but with rival gals — and desperate ones, to be exact.

“It’s going to be really interesting, because obviously Desperate Housewives sort of snuck in while ‘The Sopranos’ was on its extended hiatus,” notes Newsweek’s television critic Marc Peyser.

For the first time, HBO’s hit show goes head-to-head with ABC’s primetime ratings giant ‘Desperate Housewives.’ And the scheduling clash raises an important question: Who will get rubbed out?

Since Tony and the boys went into hiding after the 2004 season ‘Desperate Housewives’ has become one of television’s most popular shows, averaging 24 million viewers a night. It has become the most watched television drama of the past 10 years.

‘The Sopranos’ averaged 10 million viewers in each of the 13 episodes in its last season — that’s small compared to ABC’s housewives hit. But it’s big when you consider that only one third of U.S. homes subscribe to HBO.

“It’s not really going to be a contest,” said Newsweek’s Peyser. “‘Desperate Housewives‘’ will certainly win the battle. The question is how much of a chunk will ‘The Sopranos’ take out of its regular audience?”

Millions are expected to tune in to both “The Sopranos” and “Desperate Housewives” this weekend, and it remains to be seen whether it’s the guys from New Jersey, or the girls from Wisteria Lane, who get whacked. But whichever television show comes out on top in the ratings clash, experts say the numbers might not tell the whole story.

Thanks to the popularity of digital video recorders like TiVo, sometimes called DVRs for short, fans of both breakout primetime hits can make a few clicks with their remote and not miss a moment of either show. And viewers have more opportunities than ever before to catch the shows, thanks to repeats, iPod downloads and DVDs.

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