NEW YORK - Tony Soprano - or at least the HBO series that bears his name - will be sticking around awhile longer.

HBO announced that it has agreed with producers of the award-winning mob drama for a sixth season. The cast currently is wrapping up production on the fifth season, which will begin in March 2005.

The sixth season will consist of 10 episodes, shorter than the 13-episode seasons "The Sopranos" usually offers, HBO spokeswoman Tobe Becker said Thursday.

It's widely assumed that the sixth season will be the last one for "The Sopranos." Then again, it was widely assumed the fifth season would, too.

Series creator David Chase signaled the intention to keep going last week in an interview with the New York Daily News.

"I'd planned out an arc for season five that would have ended the show," he said. "But as we're getting into it, we're finding there's a lot more material. We could cram it into 13 episodes, but I don't know that it's the right thing to do."

Chase and his production team began negotiations that led to the extra 10-episode season.

Production for the sixth season will start in early 2005. No air dates have been set.

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