Sunday night’s death- and goulash-soaked season premiere of AMC’s Mad Men held its own in a crowded 9 p.m.-11 p.m. time slot, drawing a near-record 3.4 million viewers.
Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the season opener was down slightly from the 3.54 million viewers that flocked to the March 2012 table setter. Among the target demo, last night’s premiere was flat versus a year ago, averaging 1.65 million adults 25-54.
Members of the 18-49 set slipped 13 percent to 1.4 million viewers, or a 1.1 rating.
When compared to the June 10 Season 5 finale, Sunday night’s installment of Mad Men was up 26 percent from 2.7 million viewers and improved 18 percent in the target demo.
Given that the Season 6 premiere was a slower-paced, more meditative episode than its year-ago counterpart—Megan (Jessica Paré) didn’t do a reprise of her “Zou Bisou Bisou” showstopper, and the few moments of sunlight were restricted to the early scenes at the Royal Hawaiian—AMC was undoubtedly pleased by the ratings returns.
“I’m very fond of reminding everyone that we’re still in the watercooler television business,” AMC president Charlie Collier told Adweek. “Mad Men is event TV, and I think the way it has performed for and the way it has everyone talking suggests that the programming we’ve chosen to invest in is among the most engaging on television.”
Speaking to Adweek about the premiere, Mad Men creator Matt Weiner said that one of the most significant lines of the new season is uttered by Don and Megan’s neighbor, Dr. Arnold Rosen, when he says, “People will do anything to alleviate anxiety.”
“On the writers’ room wall, there are often little statements to remember and one of them for this episode was, ‘Everyone has their drug,’” Weiner said. “Whether it’s a behavior or a substance, be it yoga, liquor or Twizzlers, we all have an appetite to calm ourselves because we’re in a state of disconnection. Interesting things can come about in a society that’s in that state.”
Agreeing that the setting (New York in the waning days of 1967) coincides with what could be characterized as the Age of Benzodiazepines, Weiner added that even the supremely self-centered Roger Sterling (John Slattery) has begun looking beyond the wet bar for enlightenment.
“He’s on journey of self-discovery, and that really started last year when he took the LSD,” Weiner said. “When this season starts, we see his search for enlightenment has brought him to the analyst’s couch…with mixed results.”
Mad Men went head-to-head with a Sunday night roster that included CBS’ 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards (15.8 million viewers, 3.7 rating in the 25-54 demo from 9-11 p.m.), HBO’s Game of Thrones and History’s original drama series, Vikings.
Thrones ruled the night on cable, averaging 4.27 million viewers and a 2.3 adults 18-49 rating. Absent the goliath lead-in of The Bible, Vikings’ deliveried dropped 30 percent versus a week ago, averaging 3.31 million viewers.