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Mad Men Premiere Strikes Highest Ratings

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AMC on Sunday night secured the biggest delivery for an episode of an original series, as the season four premiere of Mad Men drew 2.92 million viewers at 10 p.m.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, the season opener out-delivered the year-ago premiere by 6 percent. Season three bowed to 2.76 million viewers on August 16, 2009.

Last night’s one-hour premiere (“Public Relations”) bettered the 13-episode season-three arc, which averaged 1.8 million viewers, by 62 percent. At press time, demos were not available.

If Mad Men’s numbers can’t compete with high performing cable fare like TNT’s The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles––both of which are averaging around 7.4 million viewers through two episodes each––or USA’s Burn Notice (5.67 million) and Royal Pains (5.46 million), the show does attract a disproportionate spread of high-income supporters. Per Nielsen, approximately 48 percent of Mad Men’s audience is comprised of people who boast annual household income of $100,000 or more.

While it’s not a perfect comparison, USA’s entire suite of original series draws nearly a third (32 percent) of its deliveries from viewers in the 18-49 demo with annual incomes of $100,000 and up.

After a nine-month hiatus, Mad Men took another small leap forward into the turbulent 1960s, picking up on Thanksgiving weekend, 1964. The episode opened with the thesis question that informs the entire series (“Who is Don Draper?”) and proceeded to skewer everything from the trades to poorly ideated PR stunts.

While Mad Men’s inside-baseball narrative and deliberate pace has kept it from achieving the mass reach it so richly deserves, creator Matt Wiener continues to thrust his elbow into the audience’s collective ribs. Sunday night’s show opened with a scene in which a reporter from Advertising Age interviews a balky Don Draper about his fledgling agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. When Don freezes him out, the reporter gets up from the table, revealing he had lost a leg in Korea.

“They’re so cheap they can’t afford a whole reporter,” cracks Roger Sterling after the Ad Ager has headed back to his office. Later in the hour, Sterling upbraids Don for botching an opportunity to grab some good press, saying the chief creative “turned all the sizzle from [the] Glo-Coat [campaign] into a wet fart. Plus, you sounded like a prick.”

The episode ended with a tableau of Don palying the game with a Wall Street Journal reporter, regaining control of the SCDP story by putting himself out there as the agency’s resident genius. In between, there were ham fights, hooker slaps and regurgitated Thanksgiving yams, courtesy of Mad Men MVP Sally Draper.