Walking Dead Scares Up Monster Ratings

AMC zombie show's season opener is most-watched drama telecast in cable history

Despite going head-to-head with the NFL and the MLB Playoffs, AMC’s zombie-apocalypse thriller The Walking Dead scared up record ratings Sunday night.

Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the 9 p.m. premiere averaged 10.9 million viewers, up 49 percent from 7.26 million in the Season 2 opener. In terms of sheer reach, the episode (“Seed”) now stands as the most-watched drama telecast in cable history.

The target demo accounted for 67 percent of The Walking Dead deliveries, as 7.3 million adults ages 18-49 tuned in. This marks a 52 percent improvement from the year-ago premiere and makes the basic cable series the biggest hit of the fall TV season. 

The Walking Dead shambled back onto the tube during a particularly hectic night, running into the buzz saw that is NBC’s Sunday Night Football and Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Fox. The Packers’ 42-24 drubbing of the Texans drew 19.9 million viewers and a 7.7 in the demo, while the Cardinals’ 6-4 victory over the Giants drew 6.8 million viewers/2.1.

The DVR is likely to further boost the ratings for The Walking Dead, which in Season 2 saw its deliveries jump 36 percent upon application of live-plus-seven-day data. By that reckoning, the overall reach for last night’s episode could easily pass the 15 million mark.

What’s particularly impressive about all of this is that AMC was able to deliver these numbers despite being blacked out in some 14.1 million Dish Network households.

“Thank you to the fans for making The Walking Dead such a tremendous success,” said AMC president Charlie Collier. “We are honored and humbled that television’s largest adult audience resides on AMC. So many people on both sides of the camera worked tirelessly on this project, and I thank and congratulate each of them for their amazing contribution.” 

The zombie juggernaut and a brace of Emmy-winning original dramas (Breaking Bad, Mad Men) have done wonders for AMC’s bottom line. According to SNL Kagan, AMC this year is on track to book $348.3 million in ad sales revenue, up 14 percent from 2011.