Breaking Bad Returns to Record Ratings

AMC drama finally gets the audience it deserves in final season debut

The countdown to the end of AMC’s Breaking Bad began on a high note Sunday night, as the Emmy Award-winning show delivered record ratings.

According to Nielsen fast nationals, the midseason premiere scared up 5.92 million viewers, of which 3.64 million were members of the all-important 18-49 demo. Both deliveries marked all-time highs for Breaking Bad; by comparison the July 15, 2012, opener drew a then-record 2.93 million viewers.

Having earned a 2.9 rating in the dollar demo, Breaking Bad’s 9 p.m. showing nearly beat all three broadcast networks combined. CBS’ Unforgettable drew a 1.1, ABC’s Whodunnit? pulled a 1.1 and a repeat of Law & Order: SVU on NBC delivered a 0.7 rating. Roll those numbers up into one, and the Big Three only managed to tie AMC during the hour.

“We are so pleased and gratified by [the] viewer response,” said AMC’s president and general manager, Charlie Collier, by way of announcing the triumphant return of Walter White and Co. “For Breaking Bad to continue to deliver record-setting ratings in its fifth and final season is remarkable.”

The first of eight final episodes, the meteoric gains chalked up by last night’s installment (“Blood Money”) suggest that viewers have caught up to what may very well be the finest program on television. While Breaking Bad’s all-methed-up-and-nowhere-to-go gang has always enjoyed year-over-year growth, the early gains were all incremental. (For example, Season 3 premiered to 1.95 million viewers, up from 1.66 million, while Season 4 bowed to 2.58 million.)

In an attempt to avoid spoilers, we’ll avoid recapping any of the Breaking Bad action. That said, as a treat for fans who are all caught up, here’s an animated adaptation of Badger’s mind-blowing, stomach-churning Star Trek fan-fic.

While lead-out police drama Low Winter Sun put up relatively strong numbers for an AMC series premiere, the show did a poor job of holding onto the Breaking Bad audience. Drawing 2.51 million viewers and 1.36 million adults 18-49 (that translates to a 1.1 rating), Low Winter Sun at 10 p.m. effectively lost 63 percent of its demo lead-in.

At 11 p.m., the after-show Talking Bad delivered 1.2 million viewers, of which more than half (679,000) were members of the dollar demo.

Speaking to investors during AMC Networks’ second-quarter earnings call, COO Ed Carroll said advertisers have clamored to buy time in the series finale of Breaking. “We sold the lion’s share of inventory in the upfront,” Carroll said, adding that AMC's sales staff held onto “a few units” in the Sept. 29 capper.

That limited inventory is likely to go for a premium—well over the estimated $56,000 per 30-second spot Breaking Bad commanded a year ago.

AMCN saw ad sales improve 14 percent in Q2 to $147 million.