'Empire' Ratings: That's the Way the Cookie Rumbles

'Empire' Returns Huge for Fox

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Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon and guest star Marisa Tomei as Mimi Whiteman in the season two premiere of
Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon and guest star Marisa Tomei as Mimi Whiteman in the season two premiere of Credit: Chuck Hodes/Fox
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Cookie's back, and she's absolutely crushing it on Wednesday night.

The season premiere of Fox's megawatt megahit "Empire" last night delivered dizzying ratings, drawing 16.2 million viewers and a 6.7 in the adults 18-to-49 demographic. Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, that translates to a staggering 8.51 million advertiser-coveted viewers.

While the "Empire" opener was down a touch versus the latter half of the two-part season one finale (17.6 million viewers, 6.9 in the key demo), last night's episode improved on the Jan. 7 series premiere (3.8) by 76%.

The season two premiere marks Fox's highest-rated scripted opener in six years; the sixth cycle of "House" bowed to a 6.8 in the 18-to-49 demographic in September 2009.

Should "Empire" manage to replicate its year-ago momentum -- overall deliveries grew each week, a streak unprecedented in the history of broadcast TV -- the sudsy musical drama could give "The Walking Dead" a run for its money. As it is, "Empire" last winter reigned as broadcast's No. 1 scripted series in live-plus-same-day ratings, demolishing its rivals with a season-average 13 million viewers and a 5.1 in the dollar demo. What's more, upon application of the C3 currency data, "Empire" jumped another 16% to a 5.9. (By way of comparison, broadcast's No. 2 drama, ABC's "Scandal," last season averaged a 3.3 in C3.)

But Cookie Lyon's domination wasn't limited to viewers whose most recent birthday cake had fewer than 50 candles stuck in the frosting. "Empire" swept every measurable demo, notching a 6.1 among adults 18-to-34, an 8.8 with women 25-to-54 and a robust 4.8 rating among teens. (Runner-up "Modern Family" pulled a 1.9.)

"Empire" was so massive that it seems to have helped slow the defection of demographically relevant viewers. While the number of adults 18-to-49 dropped 10% in the first two nights of the new season, Wednesday night's PUT (people using television) levels were down just 5%.

Per iSpot.tv, the top advertisers in the "Empire" premiere included Universal Pictures, Ford, Lincoln, Pepsi, Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz, AT&T and American Express. As Ad Age reported earlier this month, Fox is clearing around $500,000 for each 30-second "Empire" spot.

Anticipation for the "Empire" premiere would seem to have played a part in boosting the show's lead-in. At 8 p.m., the new forensic drama "Rosewood" averaged 7.36 million viewers and a 2.4 in the demo, eclipsing the opening night performances of its freshman classmates "Minority Report" (1.1) and "Scream Queens" (1.7). Fox wisely seeded teasers for "Empire" in the "Rosewood" broadcast, and as the hour grew nigh, deliveries swelled accordingly. After averaging a 2.1 in the first half-hour, "Rosewood" grew to a 2.7 in the second half.

"Empire" apparently siphoned off a good deal of viewers who might otherwise have tuned in to one of Fox's rival nets. In head-to-head competition, ABC's "Modern Family" was down 18% with a 3.1 rating, while sophomore comedy "Black-ish" plummeted 27% to a 2.4. Meanwhile, the first hour of ABC's comedy block ("The Middle," "The Goldbergs") showed no change versus their respective year-ago ratings.

Elsewhere, NBC weathered significant losses, as "The Mysteries of Laura" returned down 40% to a 1.2 while "Law & Order: SVU" was down 23% to a 1.7. CBS's "Survivor" (2.4) was off 14% versus last fall's premiere, and the "Big Brother" season finale dropped 15% to a 2.2.

Wednesday night's turnout was sweet relief for Fox, which in the first two nights of the new season finished dead last in the demo. The network has two more new shows in the hopper for the fall; the comedies "Grandfathered" and "The Grinder" bow next Tuesday in front of "Scream Queens."

Premiere Week rumbles on with the return of ABC's Thursday night Shondaland block ("Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal," "How to Get Away with Murder") and the series premiere of NBC's "Heroes Reborn" and "The Player." CBS counters with a major-market "Thursday Night Football" showdown between beleaguered NFC East Rivals Washington and the New York Giants, while Fox will encore its two-hour "Scream Queens" pilot.