Most TV shows are getting stale by the 4th season. Around that time they might start adding new stars or exploring other gimmicks to try and breathe new life into the show as the ratings start to fall. But AMC’s surprise hit The Walking Dead ratings continue to set records in the 4th season. For the second week in a row the hit that no one saw coming even beat ratings juggernaut Sunday Night Football in the 18-49 demographic.
That 18-49 demographic is the one that is the most important to executives and advertisers. The Walking Dead ratings bested the ratings for Sunday Night Football by a whopping 8.7 percent in that demographic and had about 13.3 million viewers overall. That figure is just for people watching the episode on broadcast TV and doesn’t reflect the millions of viewers who watch online or on demand throughout the week. The first season of The Walking Dead was very short with just six episodes.
While AMC’s executives did take a chance on the show they didn’t order a full season because they were not sure that there would be an audience for the post-zombie apocalypse drama. They never imagined that the show would go on to be the biggest hit in the history of basic cable. It routinely outperforms some of the biggest hits on TV like NCIS, The Voice, X-Factor and now Sunday Night Football in the 18-49 demographic.
The first indication that the show would be a ratings powerhouse was the 1st season finale which set a new ratings record at the time. By the 2nd season the show started to find solid footing and the characters started to develop into a cohesive group. The Walking Dead ratings for the 2nd season finale set a record with 9 million viewers total and 6 million viewers in the 18-49 demographic. In Season 3 the ratings continued to climb and the mid-season premiere broke the previous record set by the Season 2 finale. The mid-season premiere for Season 3 was watched by 12.3 million viewers total and 6.7 million viewers age 18-49.
As the season progressed and the prison group clashed directly with The Governor and the people of Woodbury viewers increased each week. The Season 3 finale with the decisive battle between the prison group and The Governor was also the swan song for Andrea, one of the original Atlanta group. The Season 3 finale once again broke records with 12.4 million viewers total and 8.1 million viewers 18-49. Many people wondered if Season 4 would be able to continue the ratings momentum that was building. The Season 4 premiere of The Walking Dead delivered ratings numbers that had even seasoned TV executives and industry insiders dumbfounded.
The Walking Dead Season 4 premiere was watched by 16.1 million people on broadcast TV. When on demand and streaming views are added to that total the premiere is estimated to have been watched by more than 20 million people. In the important 18-49 category it had 10.4 million viewers. Each new episode in Season 4 has continued to break previous ratings records.
The most recent episode, “Indifference”, came in at 13.3 million viewers overall and 8.7 million viewers ages 18-49. AMC announced during the show’s summer hiatus that is developing a new companion series to The Walking Dead that will explore other stories from the post-zombie apocalypse world created in The Walking Dead. Judging by the ratings of The Walking Dead the companion series should also be a smash hit. It may be the only show on TV that can even come close to matching The Walking Dead’s unbelievable ratings.
Experts and fans cite a number of influences that contribute to the staggering success of the show like the chemistry of the cast, the compelling characters, the writing and story lines, the amazing special effects and zombie makeups, and the prevalence of zombie references in popular culture. While it’s impossible to say exactly what it is that makes The Walking Dead resonate with so many millions of fans it’s a pretty safe bet that the zombie show no one thought would last more than a couple of seasons is one of the biggest hits in TV history.