Series premiere nabs 5.3 million viewers

The combination of zombies, strong reviews and a Halloween night premiere added up to record numbers for AMC’s debut of “The Walking Dead.”

Cabler’s 90-minute preem of its latest original series drew 5.3 million viewers for its 10 p.m. episode Sunday, the highest bow ever for an AMC original. In the 18-49 demo, “Walking Dead” delivered 3.6 million viewers — the most for any basic-cable series premiere since “The Dead Zone” on USA in 2003.Including two later airings that night, 8.1 million watched the episode.

“We had a lot of metrics coming in the last few days saying it would open very well,” AMC prexy Charlie Collier told Daily Variety. “You see that and want to believe it, but you never want to get ahead of yourself.”

On paper, a zombie drama based on a popular graphic novel series seemed like an odd fit with the high-brow tilt of other AMC original series: “Mad Men,” “Rubicon” and “Breaking Bad.” But “Walking Dead” came with a built-in following of fans of Robert Kirkman’s novels. And it had strong creative pedigree from exec producers Frank Darabont, who wrote and directed the premiere seg, Gale Anne Hurd and Charles Eglee. Kirkman and David Alpert also exec produce.

Collier said the show was probably helped by airing on Halloween and at the tail end of the net’s highly publicized Fearfest movie sked. The two-week programming marathon featured dozens of titles in the horror genre, all of which included commercials and promos for “Dead.”

“Dead’s” opening night was also impressive in that it came against strong sports competition. NBC carried an NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints, while Fox had Game 4 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers. Because of those live events and Halloween, “Dead’s” numbers may yet rise when full-week DVR viewing is factored in.

“Dead” has a six-episode order for its initial run. If it retains even half of its premiere aud in next week’s airing, it seems a likely bet for a second-season pickup. Skein has strong international appeal and will launch this week in 120 countries on Fox Intl. Channels outlets.

The next original series to debut on AMC is “The Killing,” based on the Danish drama “Forbrydelsen.” Series tells the story of the murder of a young girl and the subsequent police investigation. Veena Sud, formerly an exec producer and showrunner on CBS drama “Cold Case,” will write and exec produce.

According to Collier, the new series will debut early next year.

AMC still needs to make a decision on the fate of “Rubicon,” which ended its first season Oct. 17. Collier said he is “deliberating” on whether the show — which was a hit with critics but drew modest ratings — will go forward.

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