Are ‘Killing’ auds out for blood?

Fans must watch season two to learn identity of murderer

Somewhere out there in the mist and shadows lurks a dark, grim-faced, merciless fiend. That description fits the murderer of Rosie Larsen on AMC’s “The Killing,” who is still at large. But it might also apply to the way many of the show’s frustrated and furious viewers have come to regard the series’ creators after the season-one finale failed to solve the crime.

Season two is set to premiere April 1, and there is considerable anticipation as to whether fans found the end of the first season so unsatisfying that they’ll abandon the atmospheric crime drama altogether, or if their curiosity was elevated to such a fever pitch that they can’t help but tune in.

And by extension, eyes are on advertisers to see if they flinch at the ghastly sight of seething viewers, or if they’re still firmly committed to the case.

“There is a long history of viewer dissatisfaction with the storyline of shows and series finales,” notes Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. “I think for the most part, all will be forgiven. When the second season begins, viewers will be reminded why they like the show.”

“The Killing” attracted 2.72 million viewers to its two-hour debut on April 3, 2011, and 2.3 million to its finale on June 19, averaging 2.2 million viewers and a 1.7 rating over its 13-episode run.

Joel Stillerman, AMC’s senior VP of original programming, says efforts were made to confront head-on the fallout from the end of the first season.

“First and foremost,” he says, “we addressed what we believed to be the inadvertent misleading of the audience by literally announcing when you will find out who killed Rosie,” Stillerman explains. That will happen in the season two finale, he says, and the show will also introduce a second mystery.

“We were acutely aware of the issue,” Stillerman adds. “But we felt that our first obligation was to tell the best story possible, and through that prism, we decided to stick with the two-season arc that we fell in love with when we first saw the original Danish series.”

Stillerman believes audiences were riveted by both the murder mystery and the lives of the various characters.

“In a strange way, the reaction to the end of season one bore that out,” he says. “If people weren’t compelled by the murder mystery and the characters, there wouldn’t have been that kind of response. We love that level of engagement. It’s just unfortunate some people felt they were misled.”

Longtime advertising exec Jerry Della Femina also believes “The Killing” will have a robust life in season two. “The best viewers are irate viewers,” he says. “It means they care, and they really never wanted an end to it. If there was an ending, they’d never come back.”

As a result, Della Femina says that advertisers will return as well. “They like the fact that the show left something for you to think about,” he says.

A loyal following is a benchmark advertisers look at when assessing ad buys. “Passionate viewers are engaged viewers, and study after study has shown that when television viewers are engaged in the programming, it leads to higher brand awareness and recall of advertisements,” says PGR Media CEO Pattie Garrahy.

She cautions, however, that the show needs a boffo start to season two to maintain viewer and advertiser momentum. “They need an amazing premiere episode,” she says. “If viewers don’t get the answers they’ve been waiting for, they will tune out.”

Garrahy adds that, from a scheduling standpoint, AMC is making the right move by airing season two of “The Killing” at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights as a lead-in to “Mad Men” at 10 p.m.

Della Femina also points out that advertisers aren’t just interested in viewers, but in viewers who are engaged.

“A PR company can tell somebody, ‘We got you 30 million viewers on YouTube,’ but it doesn’t mean it sold anybody on anything,” he says.

“I think advertisers want something that will cause people to watch for an hour and get caught up, so they can’t turn their brains off when the ads come on and maybe they’ll even buy something.”