Yesterday, AMC announced that the second season premiere of The Walking Dead shattered its own internal ratings records, attracting 7.3 million viewers and averaging a 3.8 rating with undead-heads under 50. In a cable universe where some networks routinely brag about shows attracting 1 or 2 million viewers, Dead is a bona fide blockbuster, particularly in the younger demos valued most by advertisers. But just how big is it? Is it bigger than The Big Bang Theory? More popular than Jersey Shore? Vulture decided to crunch some skulls numbers.
In terms of overall viewers, the 7.3 million tune-in for Dead, while a record for an AMC series, is not a cable game-changer. No, we mean literally, it is not a Game changer: BET’s debut of its rebooted sitcom delivered an even bigger 7.7 million pairs of eyeballs back in January. And TNT’s The Closer has soared to around 9 million viewers for various season premieres, while ratings nerds will also recall that part one of the Western mini-series Broken Trail drew a whopping 9.8 million viewers to AMC five years ago, in the pre–Don Draper era. Also, when compared to routine telecasts on the broadcasts, Dead is nothing extraordinary: Its initial tune-in wouldn’t even crack Nielsen’s top 40 shows from last week. Buzz-free dramas such as Harry’s Law (7.8 million) and A Gifted Man (7.7 million) generated bigger audiences with their first broadcasts.
On the other hand, the list of shows Dead did outdraw is still pretty impressive: Terra Nova, House, Private Practice, Parenthood, The Biggest Loser, everything on NBC’s Thursday schedule (including The Office), and all of the CW’s prime-time lineup. It also beat that other cable behemoth, MTV’s Jersey Shore (6.5 million), not to mention cable powerhouses such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians (4 million for a two-hour wedding special).
Where Dead really comes alive, however, is in those younger demos that serve as the currency of Madison Ave. Of the 7.3 million who watched Sunday’s premiere, 4.8 million were adults under 50, which translates into an 3.8 rating. And, unlike the total viewer tally, Dead stacks up very favorably against the network big boys in the demo:
• Its 3.8 puts it at No. 10 on the Nielsen chart for last week, below top-rated entertainment series Modern Family (5.9 rating) but ahead of The X-Factor (3.7), Jersey Shore (3.6), Grey’s Anatomy (3.6), Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing (3.6), Survivor (3.2), Dancing With the Stars (3.0), Desperate Housewives (2.7), House (2.7), and The Good Wife (2.1).
• Among adults 18 to 34, Dead averaged a 4.2 rating Sunday, making it the No. 1 drama and No. 4 entertainment series on all of television, behind only Jersey Shore (5.6), Modern Family (5.3), and Two and a Half Men (4.8). (Let’s pause for a moment to recognize the power of Jersey: Last week’s episode wasn’t a season premiere or finale, and yet it still out-rated everything on TV last week that wasn’t football among viewers under 35. Our fists are pumped with mad respect).
• Break things down further, to men 18 to 34, and Dead comes out as the No. 2 show on TV last week, behind only Two and a Half Men. If you include boys between the ages of 12 and 17 in the mix (Dead virtually tied Sunday night football for first place in this demo), then Dead rises to the No. 1 series on TV last week.
• Finally, this fun fact: If you add up the adults 18 to 49 ratings for every single CW series on Monday (Gossip Girl, Hart of Dixie), Tuesday (90210, Ringer), and Wednesday (Top Model), Dead still has a bigger rating.
One last housekeeping note: Adding up all of AMC’s Sunday telecasts of Dead brings the show’s tune-in to north of 11 million; even more viewers will come via subsequent repeats, DVR usage, and video on demand. But those caveats also apply to broadcast shows. NBC, for example, aired a Harry’s Law episode on Saturday that added in another 3 million viewers. But all that data isn’t in yet, so the best apples-to-apples (or is that corpses-to-corpses?) comparison is between initial broadcasts. And by this standard, Dead is (decapitated) heads and shoulders above almost everything on cable right now, and a legit player when compared to broadcast competition.