Grateful 'Dead': AMC's Zombie Serial Remains Unstoppable

Nothing Can Lay a Finger on 'The Walking Dead'

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'The Walking Dead.'
'The Walking Dead.' Credit: Gene Page/AMC

After a 10-week hiatus, "The Walking Dead" on Sunday night returned to the primetime lineup, where, in its inimitable fashion, it did the usual bang-up job of tearing the competition into little bloody gobbets of flesh and viscera.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same day data, the midseason premiere of "The Walking Dead" scared up 13.7 million viewers and a 6.8 rating in the all-important adults 18-to-49 demo, thereby securing its status as TV's No. 1 scripted series. And it's not even close: Through the first nine episodes of season six, "TWD" is averaging a 6.7 among AMC's target demo, giving it a 40% advantage over runner-up "Empire" (4.8).

The only primetime program that boasts a higher average demo is NBC's "Sunday Night Football," which last season posted an 8.0 rating among adults age 18-to-49. The other two nightly NFL packages were no match for "TWD," as CBS' eight-game "Thursday Night Football" package averaged a 5.9 in the demo, while ESPN's "Monday Night Football" averaged a 4.6. (Of course, it's worth noting that demo stats are all but irrelevant where top-tier sports are concerned, as the networks make guarantees against household ratings rather than age clusters. Be that as it may, if anyone ever figures out a way to teach zombies how to play football, she will have saved television from a seemingly inevitable descent into senescence and death.)

The explosive [literally], eye-popping [almost literally] Valentine's Day episode now stands as the season's third highest-rated installment, trailing only the Oct. 11 season premiere (7.4) and the Nov. 29 midseason finale (7.0). And while the ratings for the zombie apocalypse serial would appear to have topped out a year ago -- season five averaged a dizzying 14.4 million viewers and a 7.4 in the demo -- "TWD" remains an outlier in an era in which live viewing is all but exclusively reserved for sporting events. (Per Nielsen, sports in 2015 accounted for a staggering 93% of all live TV ratings, up from 14% a decade earlier.)

Speaking of sports, Turner's presentation of the 2016 NBA All-Star Game was the only Sunday night program to withstand the ghoulish onslaught, delivering 7.61 million viewers and a 3.3 rating among the 18-to-49 crowd. Simulcast on TNT and TBS, the pro hoops scrimmage improved 7% versus the previous year's 3.1 demo rating.

Broadcast didn't fare nearly as well as the East-West exhibition, as "TWD" made short work of its 9 p.m. competition. In aggregate, the Big Four eked out a measly 4.5 rating in the hour, which offered a dog's breakfast of one-off specials (ABC's "The Bachelor at 20"), compilation episodes (NBC's Valentine's Day scrapbook from "The Tonight Show") and low-impact scripted fare. CBS's "Madam Secretary" drew a 1.8 in the adults 25-to-54 demo, a trifle compared with "TWD's" 7.2 rating, while Fox's "Family Guy" and "Bordertown" combined for a 1.0 among adults 18-to-49.

Among the most visible brands that bought time in Sunday night's "TWD" telecast were Apple TV, Audi and Microsoft Surface. As is generally the case, the top categories represented were auto (Audi, Chevrolet, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz), QSR (Taco Bell, Sonic, Wendy's) and movies. The studio strategy was all about volume; Focus Features threw down for a supersized 150-second sneak peek at its March 4 release "London Has Fallen," while Sony Pictures countered with a 165-second preview of its Sacha Baron Cohen-Mark Strong spy spoof "The Brothers Grimsby." With Lionsgate's relatively brief 80-second glimpse at "Gods of Egypt," the studios accounted for six minutes and 35 seconds of "TWD" commercial inventory.

Clients in the 2015-16 upfront paid a little more than $500,000 for each 30-second "TWD" spot, although scatter rates for premieres and finales are believed to be quite a bit higher.

At 10 p.m., the watercolor recap show "Talking Dead" averaged 6.44 million viewers and a 3.1 in the 18-49 demo, tying the combined efforts of ABC, CBS and NBC in the time slot.