Last night's (yawn) record-breaking broadcast of The Walking Dead tallied 10.5 million viewers during its 9 p.m. premiere, with an aggregate of 15.2 million viewers including the debut and midnight rerun, handily beating every other show on television for the evening and putting the series on track to best not merely all of its cable competition but every series of the fall broadcast season as well.
Granted, it's been a weak season for the networks, but that's still a major victory—the highest-rated regularly scheduled show on broadcast right now is CBS' perennial hit Two and a Half Men, which has clocked in at an average of 5.0 million viewers in the 18-49 dollar demo.
The only Sunday night broadcast that drew more eyeballs was the NFL.
With its final broadcast of the year (the "midseason finale," as AMC calls it), Walking Dead averaged 6.9 million viewers in the 18-49 demo, 6.0 million in the 25-54 demo and attracted 1.5 million viewers in both demos to its behind-the-scenes show, The Talking Dead. The show hasn't fallen south of 6 million in the dollar demo all season, so it's easily the most popular show on TV (our Hot List poll shows that you folks like it quite a bit, too).
AMC has been punching above its weight for a while now, but the lack of Dish Network's 14 million subscriber base has obscured just how popular it's become until this season's Dead ratings. Breaking Bad pulled in impressive numbers this fall, but it was handicapped by its dispute with the MSO. While Dish appears to have been using its carriage fees to leverage the eventual out-of-court settlement with AMC over the Voom HD lawsuit (which, by all accounts, would have been difficult for Dish to win had it gone to jury), the dispute was resolved with just days to spare before the premiere of Walking Dead. Clearly, it's a show that Dish's subscribers valued. AMC tried to cash in on that during the dispute itself, with zombie politicians taking the network's plea to consumers.
Given the network's success with Walking Dead, look for some serious ratings for both that show's next half-season in the spring (which has historically outpaced its fall installments), and for Mad Men.