Viewers Are Gaga for 'American Horror Story: Hotel'

Near-Record Opening for FX's Gonzo Anthology Strip

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Lady Gaga as the Countess on 'American Horror Story: Hotel.'
Lady Gaga as the Countess on 'American Horror Story: Hotel.' Credit: Suzanne Tenner/FX
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The season premiere of the FX horror anthology series "American Horror Story" put up ratings that were nearly as lurid as the show itself, eviscerating just about everything in its path with an average draw of 5.81 million live-plus-same-day viewers and a 3.0 in the 18-to-49 demo.

The opening installment of "AHS: Hotel" notched the series' second-highest rating, trailing only last year's premiere of "AHS: Freak Show" (3.1). The 90-minute "Hotel" launch also tied the first episode of 2013's "AHS: Coven" in the dollar demo.

Last night's demo rating translates to 3.79 million viewers in the age range that is most sought after by advertisers. "Hotel" absolutely devastated its cable and broadcast competition, nearly trebling the turnout for ABC's "Nashville" (1.27 million adults 18-49), while eclipsing CBS's new medical drama "Code Black" (1.52 million) and NBC's "Chicago PD" (1.9 million).

For all its characteristically batshit trappings -- never one to eschew excess, series co-creator Ryan Murphy has reset his sex-and-drugs-and-rock n' roll blender to "liquefy" -- "Hotel" was probably fortunate to avoid a head-to-head encounter with Wednesday night's reigning pop indulgence. At 9 p.m., Fox's "Empire" ran roughshod over the pretenders to its throne, averaging 13.1 million viewers and a 5.1 in the demo, down 7% from last week's 5.5 rating.

Those who weren't catching up with Lady Gaga or Cookie were most likely tuned in for the National League wild card game on TBS. The Cubs-Pirates one-off averaged 8.3 million total viewers and a 5.0 household rating, making it the most-watched and highest-rated wild card telecast in MLB history.

If "Hotel" can maintain the ratings trends established by the last two seasons of the "AHS" franchise, it should settle in as cable's No. 3-rated scripted series behind AMC's zombie apocalypse bookends "The Walking Dead" and "Fear the Walking Dead." The flagship series closed out its fifth season with an average draw of 14.4 million viewers and a 7.4 in the 18-to-49 demo. Companion series "FTWD" on Sunday wrapped its inaugural six-episode run with an average delivery of 7.61 million viewer and a 3.8 rating.

While the big turnout for "Hotel" was hardly unexpected (already a heavy hitter, "AHS" could only benefit from a likely influx of loyal Gaga fanatics), for FX, the results were sweet nonetheless. Like every other TV network struggling with the rise of over-the-top services and the ravages of time-shifted-viewing, FX has seen its live deliveries take a tumble over the last 18 months or so. After "Hotel," the network's top-rated series ("Archer," "Bastard Executioner," "The Strain," "Fargo") are all averaging a 0.6 in live-same-day.

Of course, while ratings remain one of the most important factors that determine the longevity of a TV series, studio provenance and off-net licensing opportunities can extend the lifespan of an underperforming show. Earlier today, FX announced it has renewed its critically acclaimed Middle East drama "Tyrant" for a third season; an in-house favorite, the homegrown "Tyrant" averaged a 0.4 rating in its second season.

As for the returning champ "AHS," it remains to be seen how "Hotel" will fare in the remainder of its 13-episode sprint. As long as Mr. Murphy's Grand Guignol fixation doesn't scare off too many viewers, advertisers are likely to tolerate all manner of throat-slashing, eyeball-gouging and ass-flaunting. As is the case with fellow FX auteur Kurt Sutter, you know what you're getting when you buy into a Ryan Murphy basic-cable show.

Of those marketers brave enough to check into "Hotel," the most visible were Patron tequila and Burger King, both of which ponied up for three spots in the premiere. Nationwide, Dos Equis and Universal Pictures' "Crimson Peak" each invested in two units in the telecast. Mercedes-Benz was the presenting sponsor of the premiere.