Sons of Anarchy," the hardcore series about a gun-running motorcycle club, is starting to leave tire tracks all over the competition.
Without a lot of fanfare, "Sons," now in its second season on cable channel FX, is outdrawing nearly all the competition Tuesdays at 10 p.m. -- even NBC's Jay Leno (in adults 18-49).
It's averaging 4 million viewers each week, making it one of the top-rated shows on cable -- and the surprise hit of the season.
"Sons," in fact, is one of the rarest phenomenons on TV -- a genuine word-of-mouth hit.
"It has a strong voice and a hot look, two elements that resonate on TV," says Todd Gold, who covers pop culture for TV site fancast.com. "It provides an intense look into a sexy subculture."
Sons is about members of the close-knit Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original -- nicknamed SAMCRO -- who more or less run the town of Charming, Calif. (even the cops fear them).
The show's central figure is young Jax (Charlie Hunnam), who questions the club's code and wants to ease SAMCRO into the mainstream.
The gang makes its money mostly by dealing illegal guns -- but they have a strong internal code that has made fans compare the show to "The Sopranos," another show about bad guys you can root for.
"There's a sense of danger, and the illicit, that has an allure," says Gold. "It's the kind of show you watch and then want to talk about the next day at work.
"And people have always been curious about motorcycle gangs."
"Sons" creator Kurt Sutter has watched while his show -- which debuted last year to solid reviews but not much buzz -- has picked up a growing number of loyal and vocal viewers since it returned for a second season in early September.
"What I love is how committed the fans are," says Sutter, who's married to the show's co-star, Katey Sagal. "I get notes on Twitter and on my blog . . . [the fans] are plugged in and really invested in it and I think that can't help but get people to tune in.
"And this was the perfect storm for us," he says. "FX really spent the dough and did a really fabulous job promoting it . . . When people tuned in, there was enough going on that they decided to come back."
Sutter acknowledges the "Sopranos" comparisons -- while at the same time distancing his show from that series.
"Our show is much more of an ensemble piece . . . just by the nature of outlaw clubs . . . 'The Sopranos' was really Tony and everyone else in his orbit," Sutter says.
"I think what really appeals to a lot of viewers is ['Sons' '] sense of camaraderie about a band of guys -- and their dedication, commitment and love for each other."