This is starting to become a routine statement, but The Walking Dead has scored another ratings high for both AMC TV and cable TV as a whole.
AMC's zombie apocalypse drama had its season 3 midseason premiere last night (read our review), which saw Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his band of survivors in the midst of chaos that could drag them into all-out war with the residents of Woodbury and their maniacal leader, The Governor (David Morrissey).
According to reports, The Walking Dead season 3.5 premiere scored 12.3 millon viewers; factoring in repeat airings, the total number of viewers was 16.6 million. The previous record for an ad-supported cable series (read: shows with commercials) was the Walking Dead season 3 premiere in Fall of 2012 (10.9 viewers). According to Variety, this is a 51% increase over the midseason premiere of the show's highly-debated sophomore season, showing that the departure of original showrunner Frank Darabont has had anything BUT an adverse effect on Walking Dead's performance (though creative quality is another discussion...).
In the key demographic of adults 18-49, the show is performing even better; The Walking Dead season 3.5 premiere has shown the strongest ratings in that demo of any cable show - and has only been been bested in 2013 by a Jan 10th episode of CBS' ratings Juggernaut, The Big Bang Theory.
If you can't read the ratings on the wall, The Walking Dead is now officially marking the point at which cable TV is not only competing with the network TV model of broadcast entertainment - it's besting it. Putting up these kinds of numbers detracts from the notion that cable shows 'perform well... for cable'; for AMC, it continues to set a new precedent - and brings a whole new slew of problems.
AMC's highly-publicized fallout (and ultimate reconcilliation) with Mad Men creator Mattew Weiner has been something discussed around these parts at length. In choosing to pay Weiner handsomely in exchange for the final seasons of Mad Men (5, 6 and 7), the network has, essentially, footed a bill it can barely cover - at the expense of shows like Breaking Bad and even The Walking Dead, which happens to be the only show AMC actually owns (read: profits the most from).
This budget-slashing, 'toe before the foot' decision has led Walking Dead into some troubled waters. Frank Darabont left in season 2 largely over creative differences (read: having his episode budget slashed despite scoring promising ratings; and Darabont's replacement, Glen Mazzarra, is leaving after season 3 for what are apparently similar gripes. Show writer/producer Scott Gimple will run things in season 4 - hopefully for a longer stretch than his predecessors.
Watching AMC's rise (no pun) has been an interesting experiment - and this latest ratings milestone adds just one more level of intrigue to the story. Sure, it is the critical acclaim of shows like Mad Men that brought a viewing audience to the network; but it's Walking Dead that is bringing in the masses - and presumably the advertising dollars. Taken altogether, it's like watching a kid on the cusp between Jr. high and high school trying to decide if he/she is going to be the brilliant-but-lonely drama geek, or the popular (but compromised) kid around campus.
Will continued ratings bumps make AMC rethink where their money gets invested and how their flagship show should be run? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, you can catch the rest of The Walking Dead season 3 Sundays @ 9/8c on AMC.
All Images courtesy of AMC TV