‘Breaking Bad’ Finale Soars to Series-Best 10.3 Million Viewers

Finale of AMC drama outdraws all other Sunday entertainment series in adults 18-49

AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” one week after picking up the top Emmy drama prize, capped its meteoric ratings rise Sunday by surging to series highs in its finale — despite facing formidable season premieres on ABC, CBS, Fox and Showtime.

There was no stopping fans from watching the show live Sunday (or at least same-night, thanks to DVRs), as the conclusion to Walter White’s odyssey  was watched by an average audience of 10.3 million, according to Nielsen, up 3.7 million (or 56%) from its penultimate episode of the previous week (6.6 million).

Best Finale Ratings of All-Time: Where Does ‘Breaking Bad’ Stand?

In adults 18-49, “Breaking Bad” did a huge 5.4 rating (or roughly 6.7 million viewers), putting it ahead of all broadcast premiere-week programs with the exception of CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.”

Though it couldn’t quite reach the levels of AMC’s megahit “The Walking Dead,” which wrapped its most recent season with 12.4 million (and a 6.4 in the demo), the series finale of “Breaking Bad” delivered nearly three times the audience of the most-watched “Mad Men” episode to date (3.5 million for its fifth-season premiere), and more than times that AMC show’s largest 18-49 rating.

Among all cable series finales, “Breaking Bad” ranks third, behind only HBO’s “Sopranos” in 2007 (11.9 million) and “Sex and the City” in 2004 (10.6 million). USA’s “Monk” wrapped with 9.4 million in 2009, and TNT’s “Closer” closed with 9.1 million last year.

Of course, it seems unlikely that anything in today’s fragmented media world will approach the all-time biggest finales like “MASH” in 1983 (105.9 million), “Cheers” in 1993 (80.4 million) and “Seinfeld” in 1998 (76.3 million).

Sunday’s audience was certainly larger those delivered earlier this year by the broadcast finales of long-running shows “The Office” (5.7 million), “Private Practice” (5.3 million) and “30 Rock” (4.8 million).

Most successful veteran series peak in their third or fourth season, but “Breaking Bad” is a clear exception.

It was barely hanging on in its first season in 2008, averaging just 1.2 million viewers, according to live-plus same day Nielsen estimates. It didn’t move the needle much until 2011, when it averaged 1.9 million. It then spiked to 2.6 million for its abbreviated eight-episode run in 2012 — spurred by off-season streaming of the show on Netflix — before exploding this year with an average audience of 5.4 million per episode heading into last night.

Similarly in adults 18-49, its 0.5 average for its first season had grown to 1.3 last year and then more than doubled to a 2.7 this year.

When counting full-week DVR playback, “Breaking Bad’s” per-episode average this season prior to its finale jumps from a 2.6 to a 3.9 in the 18-49 demo and from about 5.2 million total viewers to 7.6 million. In adults 18-34, it has surged from a 3.1 in same-night numbers to a 5.0 average with a week of DVR playback — ten times the 0.5 that it did for its series premiere in 2008.

Airing after the “Breaking Bad” finale on Sunday, discussion show “Talking Bad” drew 4.4 million viewers, including 2.9 million adults 18-49.

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  1. Erin Smith says:

    I absoluly loved the entire series of Breaking Bad. I will miss this show, but it ended perfect!

  2. I love the FACT that 10 times more people watched the finale of M*A*S*H* vs Breaking Bad. I was too young to appreciate the finale of M*A*S*H* when it aired but later looked it up online and viewed it. It represented the end of the broadcast era, since then we have had Cable and Internet gaining peoples attention (not to mention “reality” programming). The days of widely watched, broadcast tv, production series are gone —- but someone might make a successful attempt at a revival. For me, I will continue to not watch TV at all, until there is something I feel worth watching.

  3. Eric M says:

    I would absolutely love the opportunity to collaborate with Vince Gilligan and write a series. He’s captured magic with Breaking Bad and I’m now chomping at the bit to see what genre he rolls out next! Cheers to a astonishing cast and crew! Phenomenal job!

  4. Anon says:

    I would like to see Vince Gilligan make a movie next.

    • Jack G says:

      Why? It’s almost patently clear that TV is where the best stories are, anymore. The best actors seem to have gravitated to TV, where age and experience trump (fleeting) beauty and manufactured talent. I’m thrilled that shows like Breaking Bad continue to highlight strong stories and I hope it signifies a trend towards more serial television. That’s perhaps expecting too much from the audiences who continue to flock to tired sitcoms, reality shows, and singing competitions, but I will cling to that hope.

      I haven’t seen a film all year that can hold a candle to a single episode of BB this year. Not even in the same solar system.

  5. Karen says:

    It was a great finale. I have followed the show from the beginning. Vince Gilligan is a genious.

  6. Christopher Hobe Morrison says:

    Exactly how many stories are you going to do on Breaking Bad?

    • Jason says:

      As many stories as can be written. Sorry no downtown Abby or sex in the city stories for you!!! Retard. It’s a breaking bad article

  7. Jim Ponsoldt says:

    jesse lives!! how long before we see a sequel: jesse five years later as movie producer?

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