Strong aud retention yields 13-episode second season pickup

AMC has doubled down on zombie drama “The Walking Dead,” ordering a second season of 13 episodes — more than twice as many as in this fall’s six-episode run.

“Walking Dead” premiered Oct. 31 on AMC to the biggest audience for any basic cable debut episode since USA’s 2003 “The Dead Zone.” Episode two, airing Sunday, drew some 4.7 million viewers (3.3 million in adults 18-49), representing a nearly 90% audience retention rate compared to the pilot — an above-average sign of strength.

For the network that has won numerous Emmys with original dramas “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” “Walking Dead” has become its biggest audience hit yet, compelling AMC to expand the number of episodes.

“When we had the opportunity to work with the brilliant Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd, among so many others, we jumped at the opportunity to deliver six episodes out of the gate — a six-episode pilot order, if you will, that we could also get on the air this year in time for our annual Fearfest movie marathon,” AMC prexy Charlie Collier said. “In success — and this has literally been unprecedented success — we’re scaling to full-season orders moving forward.”

The second season of the drama, starring Andrew Lincoln and exec produced by Darabont, Hurd, Robert Kirkman, David Alpert and Chic Eglee, also was picked up by Fox Intl. Channels, which staged an essentially simultaneous premiere of “Walking Dead” in 120 countries.

While the renewal for “Dead” came rapidly, AMC continues to debate internally the future of “Rubicon,” which finished its 13-episode debut season Oct. 17. No decision has been made on the series.

AMC’s next original series is “The Killing,” scheduled for early 2011. “Breaking Bad” is expected to return next summer after a hiatus of at least one year.

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