THE WALKING DEAD (AMC)
Scheduling history: The Walking Dead's short first season aired on Sundays at 10/9c. It was quickly evident this show was enough of a force that it should be leading into another primetime program, so it moved to 9/8c for season two and has been there ever since.
See (who saw) how it all began: It's easy to forget now that the series premiere ratings for The Walking Dead were themselves quite an amazing accomplishment, even at a fraction of what would be achieved in future seasons. It launched on Halloween in 2010 with 5.345 million viewers and a 2.7 demo rating, which already made it one of the very biggest series on cable. It dropped only a bit to a 2.5 rating in week two, stayed roughly steady for a couple weeks, then perked up to new highs (2.8 and 3.0) in each of season one's last two episodes.
The best of times: Had I written this post in season one, this space would keep getting rewritten with every new Walking Dead season. The ratings just keep going up, to the point that it now blows away all other entertainment series on broadcast or cable. The series high is an 8.7 demo, achieved for the season five fall premiere on 10/12/14. Broadcast TV produced its biggest new drama hit in at least a decade with Empire, and it still only barely averaged two thirds of what The Walking Dead did!
The worst of times: The Walking Dead quickly left its early ratings in the dust; nothing in any subsequent season has even gotten down to the high point of season one or two. The series low is a 2.4 demo, set on 11/21/10, week four of the six-episode first season.
Then vs. now: If American Idol was the great TV ratings anomaly of the aughts, The Walking Dead should go down as the great TV ratings anomaly of this decade. It's had the same kind of seasonal uplifting of its network that Idol did; AMC almost always finishes in the top three basic cable networks in weeks when Dead is on, sometimes #1, and often drops into the 20's when it's off. Quantifying exactly how big an anomaly is tough. Its story is all the more impressive because it happened on basic cable, but looking at A18-49+ numbers may actually inflate it a bit at this point since its numbers (plus lead-out aftershow Talking Dead) don't get counted in the 'league average.' Even if we did that, though, it's still be the biggest entertainment series of the last decade-plus after historical adjustments: even bigger than Idol in its prime!
With each season, The Walking Dead shattered some significant ceiling. In season one, it pulled ratings the broadcasters would be happy to have (which was relatively new for basic cable). In season two, it just about matched NCIS for top drama on all TV. Season three was the show's most impressive bump, surging from amazing cable story to amazing-for-anyone, and it only widened the gap vs. the entertainment field in season four. There's really only one thing left for Dead to do, and that's regularly beat the top non-entertainment series (NBC's Sunday Night Football) on a same-day basis. The Walking Dead has beaten some of the weaker games head-to-head in the last couple seasons. Though SNF still reigned with its 7.65 average in 2014-15, it was not by much. Does Dead have enough juice left to pull it off in the future? 2015-16 saw SNF pull a bit further ahead, so it will be tough.
Adults 18-49 info by season:
|1||Fall 2010||Sunday 10:00||2.65||2.40||3.00||detail|
|2||Fall 2011||Sunday 9:00||3.41||+29%||3.10||3.80||detail|
|2||Winter 2012||Sunday 9:00||3.90||3.46||4.68||detail|
|3||Fall 2012||Sunday 9:00||5.32||+56%||4.91||5.77||detail|
|3||Winter 2013||Sunday 9:00||5.78||+48%||5.42||6.41||detail|
|4||Fall 2013||Sunday 9:00||6.62||+24%||5.65||8.19||detail|
|4||Winter 2014||Sunday 9:00||6.92||+20%||6.30||8.17||detail|
|5||Fall 2014||Sunday 9:00||7.46||+13%||6.95||8.65||detail||A|
|5||Winter 2015||Sunday 9:00||7.31||+6%||6.22||8.16||detail||A|
|6||Fall 2015||Sunday 9:00||6.72||-10%||6.17||7.43||detail||A-|
|6||Winter 2016||Sunday 9:00||6.33||-13%||5.83||6.92||detail||A-|
Historical-adjusted ratings by season:
The War of 18-49 chronicles the ratings history of veteran primetime series. For more, see the Index.