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'Sopranos' want an offer they can't refuse
Supporting actors say two-year season gives them the right to renegotiate; HBO show's premiere draws fewer viewers, reports say.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - As HBO's hit drama "The Sopranos" returns to prime time, several supporting actors want to return to the negotiating table, according to a report Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal.

But their hand could be weakened. The New York Times reports that Sunday's premiere drew far fewer viewers than season kickoffs from previous years.

James Gandolfini and other cast members
James Gandolfini and other cast members

The Journal said actors with smaller roles were pushing HBO to renegotiate their contracts following reports that the show's leading cast members have signed new contracts for the remaining eight episodes, including a deal with star James Gandolfini, who plays Tony Soprano, that pays him roughly $1 million an episode.

Other major cast members who negotiated or are negotiating raises include Edie Falco, who plays Tony's wife, Carmela, and Lorraine Bracco, who plays Tony's shrink, Dr. Melfi, the Journal said.

The paper said actors looking for a new contract include Tony Sirico, who plays Paulie Walnuts, Steven Van Zandt, cast as a mob family soldier, and Steven R. Schirripa, whose character is Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri.

The Journal said major cast members make in the low six-figures an episode, while those with smaller roles get $35,000 to $50,000.

Most television shows have 22 episodes in a one-year season, and actors sign contracts for that one-year time frame, the Journal said. But HBO plans on shooting and airing 20 episodes of the show over a two-year period, yet calling it one "season," which is where the dispute with the actors comes in.

They might have had a better chance of squeezing more money out of HBO if the show had topped previous ratings when it premiered Sunday night.

But The New York Times said Wednesday that 9.5 million people tuned in, down from 12.1 million who watched the opening episode two years ago. The show took a one-year hiatus last year.

HBO officials blamed the drop on increased competition Sunday night, mainly in the form of ABC's "Desperate Housewives," the Times reported.

They also said more people watch "The Sopranos" via alternative means, like on-demand channels or recording it, than ever have in the past, and that the 9.5 million figure doesn't include those numbers, the article said.

For comparison, "Desperate Housewives" drew 22.2 million viewers, although free ABC has three times as many viewers as subscription HBO, according to the article.

HBO is owned by Time Warner (Research), which also owns CNNMoney.com.

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