Empire Continues to Reign, Drawing 16.2 Million Viewers for Its Season 2 Premiere

Best ratings of all scripted series to debut this week

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Returning last night after a six-month hiatus, Empire showed that it's still a phenomenon with audiences. 

An impressive 16.2 million viewers watched the Fox drama's Season 2 premiere Wednesday night. The show had a 6.7 rating among adults ages 18 to 49, two full points higher than any other scripted series during this week's premieres.

The numbers were down just slightly from Empire's massive Season 1 finale ratings—17.6 million, 6.9 in the 18-49 demographic. In January, the show premiered with a 3.8 and 9.9 million viewers, and those numbers climbed almost every week until the premiere (total viewers rose every week, and its 18-49 rating went up every week but one). Fox says the season finale was the most tweeted one-hour broadcast series ever, with 1.3 million live tweets.

The news was also good for new drama Rosewood, which aired before Empire and drew 7.36 million viewers and a 2.4 rating in 18-49.

It's the first bit of positive ratings news Fox has had during premiere week; its other new shows have disappointed. Minority Report, based on the 2002 Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise film, opened to a 1.1 rating in the demo (with 3.1 million total viewers), and Scream Queens had just a 1.7 rating and 4 million viewers despite Fox's seven-month marketing campaign. (The network expects Scream Queens, which appeals to a young, female audience that is less likely to watch live, will rise in live-plus-three ratings.)

Since Empire's first season ended in March, Fox had embarked on an ambitious campaign to retain its Season 1 audience while also bringing in new viewers. "I think it is a matter of don't mess it up," said Joe Earley, COO, Fox Television Group.

Buyers have been more excited about Empire than any of the new fall shows. Fox charged as much as $750,000 per 30-second spot for the premiere, according to The Hollywood Reporter

Empire's numbers in the 18-49 demo are bigger than any other scripted series debut this week. The Big Bang Theory opened to a 4.7 rating on Monday (the CBS sitcom had more total viewers with 18.2 million). But Sunday Night Football remains tops in both the demo (9.7) and total viewers (26.4 million). 

Prior to Wednesday's premiere, Fox had tried to downplay expectations that Empire's ratings would continue to increase. "Will the show stay as hot as it was in Season 1? I think it's inevitable that it won't be as hot," said Gary Newman, co-CEO and co-chairman of Fox Television Group. "It will perform great, but nothing remains a phenomenon for that long. So, we have to be realistic about our expectation levels. But the material that we've seen so far has been great. We feel confident that we have the goods this year."

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.