Friday, July 17, 2015

The War of 18-49, Hell on Wheels

A Rare Post-Walking Dead Launch

Whenever AMC's phenomenon The Walking Dead finally fizzles, one thing that may seem striking is how rarely AMC actually tried new scripted programming directly after it. This may change, but as of now there's been just one try: the railroad drama Hell on Wheels. It opened on 11/6/11 with a fairly reasonable 4.36 million viewers and 1.9 demo rating, compared to its lead-in's 3.4. As the Dead hung in the low 3's, Hell on Wheels dropped to 1.5 and 1.2 the next two weeks, then held at 1.2 in week four following Dead's finale.

A Modest Audience Left Behind

Premiering Hell on Wheels a month into TWD's season meant they had some time to see what was left after it lost the huge lead-in. Its first weeks without Dead plummeted to 0.8 and 0.6, but it held at 0.6 or 0.7 for the rest of the season. It was enough for a renewal, and season two of Hell on Wheels debuted in the late summer. It had a string of 0.6's to open the year, then dropped into 0.5's and even one 0.4 for the second half.

A Successful Saturday Experiment

These were pretty marginal ratings for an AMC that was still rolling with Mad Men and Breaking Bad at the time, but AMC was able to find a way to make a third season work: it would spearhead an unconventional push into programming the low-viewed Saturday. It was in this move that Hell on Wheels would finally prove its true value for the network, as it was down just 19% to a mix of 0.4's and 0.5's on Saturday. It's hard to imagine almost any other series making a move to Saturday (or even Friday) and shedding only 19% of its same-day demo, but that's what happened here.

It dropped another 17% in season four, though even a -17% on the same night is not bad by recent cable standards. But it did get AMC to announce that season five (premiering tomorrow night, July 18) will be the last one. Hell on Wheels will probably go down as a bit of an isolated incident; the network didn't really try building around it after the Saturday move and will probably bail on the night again once it's over. But score one for oddball scheduling.

Adults 18-49 info by season:

12011-12Sunday 10:000.990.601.90detail
2Summer 2012Sunday 9:000.55-45%0.420.63detail
3Summer 2013Saturday 9:000.44-19%0.330.50detail
5Summer 2015-160.26-33%0.190.38detailC+

Historical-adjusted ratings by season:

2Summer 20122318272620
3Summer 20132116242324
5Summer 20151815232317
Summer 20161513191617


The War of 18-49 chronicles the ratings history of veteran primetime series. For more, see the Index.

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