‘Walking’ sets cable ratings record

AMC drama's return draws 4.8 million adults 18-49

The marketing campaign for season two of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” started immediately after the show wrapped its six-episode first season in December. Clearly, those efforts paid off.

Season two of “Walking Dead” opened to an eye-popping 7.3 million viewers on Sunday, and it broke cable ratings records in the key demographic categories of adults 18-49 and adults 25-54.

The preem averaged 4.8 million adults 18-49 and 4.2 million in the 25-54 demo — a new record for a basic cable drama series. It also easily ranked as primetime’s No. 1 entertaiment series for the night, according to Nielsen, topping the 18-49 delivery of Fox’s special “The X Factor” (4.2 million adults 18-49), ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” (3.4 million) and CBS’ “CSI: Miami” (3 million). AMC

prexy Charlie Collier called the numbers “staggering, just like our zombies.”

Compared to last season’s premiere, the show was up 38% in total viewers, 36% in 18-49 and 35% in 25-54. With two repeats that followed the preem telecast, the show cumed a total of 11 million viewers.

The big question now for AMC is whether its formidable “Walking Dead” aud will stick around for its upcoming companion piece, “Hell on Wheels.” The oater is set after the Civil War and revolves around a Confederate soldier on a quest for vengeance who moves to a lawless town to work on the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. “Hell” bows Nov. 6.

But for now, AMC execs are allowed a victory dance for the success of “Walking Dead.” The show’s surprisingly strong perf caught the net by surprise last fall. AMC weathered significant criticism from fans of the show, and the comicbook it is based on, for pushing out Frank Darabont as exec producer and showrunner as production resumed this summer.

None of that seemed to dent the turnout on Sunday. “Walking Dead’s” season opener toppled the adults 18-49 viewing record held for nine years by USA Network’s “The Dead Zone” (4 million). USA still holds the mark for most-watched basic cable drama telecast for the series finale of “Monk” (9.43 million total viewers), set in December 2009.

“Walking Dead’s” big bounce adds to the banner year for genre fare in primetime: HBO’s “Game of Thrones” did notably well for the network, and Syfy logged personal bests for the third quarter with a slate of summer programming that included dramas “Being Human” and “Alphas.”

(Rick Kissell and Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)