'Walking Dead' Delivers Big for AMC; 'Better Call Saul' Sets Debut Record

Zombie Show Keeps Bringing in the Coveted 18-49 Demographic

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

AMC's "The Walking Dead" on Sunday night did its usual job of devouring everything in its path, as the show's midseason premiere scared up typically overwhelming ratings.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, last night's hiatus-busting installment of "The Walking Dead" delivered 15.6 million total viewers and an 8.0 in the all-important adults 18-49 demo, edging the Nov. 30 midseason finale (7.6) by 5%.

The 8.0 rating translates to a staggering 10.1 million members of the advertiser-coveted demo. By way of comparison, the highest-rated scripted broadcast series, CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" drew a 5.4 in the 18-49 demo in its highest-rated episode of the current TV season. That's about 3.2 million targeted viewers shy of what "The Walking Dead" delivered last night.

"The Walking Dead" also clicked with older viewers, drawing an 8.0 rating among adults 25-54, up 7% versus the year-ago 7.5.

Through the first nine episodes of its fifth season on AMC, "The Walking Dead" is averaging a 7.5 in the 18-49 demo, making it far and away the highest-rated scripted show on television.

As one might expect, the reach of "The Walking Dead" and its favorable demographic composition make it one of the priciest buys on the tube. Media buyers in last summer's upfront bazaar invested as much as $415,000 per 30-second ad unit.

If the return of Rick Grimes and the gang blew a hole in the Sunday prime-time lineup, the zombie drama also proved to be a valuable lead-in for the newest AMC original drama. According to Nielsen, the series debut of the "Breaking Bad" spinoff "Better Call Saul" now stands as the biggest in cable history, averaging 6.88 million viewers and a 3.4 in the 18-49 demo.

All told, some 4.36 million members of the 18-49 set tuned in for the "Better Call Saul" premiere; in other words, 63% of the overall audience fell into the relevant demographic.

By way of comparison, "Saul" predecessor "Breaking Bad" bowed to just 1.4 million viewers back in January 2008. (The strike-shortened first season averaged just 1.23 million viewers.) "Saul" also out-performed every episode in the first half of the fifth and final season of "Breaking Bad," although it (predictably) couldn't hold a candle to the show's last seven telecasts. The series finale drew 10.3 million viewers and a 5.3 in the demo.

Starring Bob Odenkirk as the ambulance-chasing attorney Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman and Jonathan Banks as the laconic fixer Mike Ehrmantraut, "Better Call Saul" was created by "Breaking Bad" showrunner Vince Gilligan and writer Peter Gould.

"Saul" moves into its Monday 10 p.m. time slot tonight, where it will square off against the likes of CBS's "NCIS: Los Angeles," ABC's "Castle" and NBC's "State of Affairs."

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