ABC drama, NBC reality show do mere 4 share in key demo

Cable continues to be a thorn in the flesh of the Big Four on Sundays, with History gathering a large flock of followers for its premiere of miniseries “The Bible,” the night’s most-watched program. The net also saw a good tune-in for its first original series, “The Vikings.”

And between “The Bible” and AMC’s juggernaut zombie drama “The Walking Dead,” cable had easily the top two programs among adults 18-49 on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, it was slow going for a pair of premiering broadcast programs: NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” returned down sharply in demos from last year but still outperformed new ABC drama “Red Widow” in young adults.

According to Nielsen prelims, “The Bible,” a 10-hour, $20 million epic whose exec producers include Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, averaged a boffo 13.1 million viewers for its 8-10 p.m. premiere, and 14.8 million if you add in its quickie repeat. This makes it the most-watched entertainment program on cable since the net’s own “Hatfields & McCoys” wrapped its impressive three-night run last May with 14.3 million for the initial airing of its finale.

The large number, while impressive, doesn’t come as a big surprise given that Burnett and Downey reached out to a faith-based community that has turned in out in big numbers before — including for Downey’s own CBS series “Touched by an Angel” (1994-2003), the 2000 CBS mini “Jesus” and the 2004 film “Passion of the Christ.” The project, bolstered by input from an advisory board of religious leaders and biblical scholars, has been a passion project of Burnett and Downey (who are married to each other) since 2009.

History has also shown it can attract big aud with scripted programming. The net, which until last year had drawn most of its biggest ratings for unscripted skeins like “Pawn Stars” and “Swamp People,” made a big splash in May with its three-night “Hatfields” mini.

No program drew more total viewers Sunday than “The Bible.” CBS’ “60 Minutes” drew the largest audience on the broadcast networks (11.9 million), while AMC’s “The Walking Dead” (11.3 million) ranked third among all programs on the night.

“The Bible” also drew roughly 4.4 million adults 18-49 for its premiere (about a 3.5 national rating) and 5 million for its two telecasts. The only Sunday program to rate higher among adults 18-49 was “The Walking Dead” (5.7 rating) — a show that has been immune to whatever competition it faces, whether that be the Grammys, Oscars or “The Bible.”

In adults 25-54, “The Bible” averaged 4.6 million for the first airing and 5.6 million total for its two plays. The mini will air Sundays throughout the month, capped by its finale on Easter Sunday (March 31).

Following “The Bible,” History’s first full-length original scripted series, “The Vikings,” opened to 6.2 million viewers (and 8.3 million for its two telecasts) and 2.5 million adults 18-49 (3.4 million overall). The roughly 2.0 national rating in 18-49 for the series about Scandinavian scavengers bested all the broadcast networks’ offerings in the 10 p.m. hour (“Celebrity Apprentice,” “The Mentalist” and “Red Widow”).

Starring Travis Fimmel and Gabriel Byrne, “The Vikings” is an international Irish/Canadian co-production between World 2000 and Take 5 Productions.

On the broadcast side, vets “The Amazing Race” (2.4) on CBS and “The Simpsons” on Fox (2.3) were the night’s top two programs in adults 18-49, and these nets tied for the Sunday 18-49 lead among the Big Four.

NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” averaged a 1.6/4 in adults 18-49 and 5.1 million viewers overall from 9 to 11 p.m., down more than 35% from last year’s opener. Still, it beat out in demos the premiere of ABC’s “Red Widow” (1.4/4 in 18-49, 6.9 million viewers overall), which also aired from 9 to 11 p.m. and beat the NBC reality show in total viewers. “Widow” ties with last month’s premiere of “Zero Hour” as the lowest-rated Alphabet series premiere on record among adults 18-49.

If there was a sliver of good news for ABC it was that “Red Widow” pretty much maintained its audience throughout its two hours. The series shifts to its regular 10 p.m. timeslot beginning next week, when it follows “Revenge.”

ABC has to be a bit concerned about “Once Upon a Time” (2.1/6 in 18-49, 7.2 million viewers overall) as it hit a low, down 13% from its most recent original of two weeks ago — and this is a week before the start of Daylight Saving Time, which tends to sap the ratings strength of all shows airing in the 8 o’clock hour. It was beaten for a second straight time by “Amazing Race.”

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