Frank Darabont's zombie series averaged 5.3M viewers on Halloween night; by comparison, season 4 of "Mad Men" debuted to 2.9M
Zombies brought life to AMC's ratings Sunday night.
The network received its best original-series premiere numbers ever, with Frank Darabont sci-fi/drama "The Walking Dead" averaging 5.3 million viewers during its 90-minute Halloween-night premiere.
To put that number in perspective, season 4 of the network's flagship show, "Mad Men," debuted to an average of 2.9 million viewers in August.
Meanwhile, "Rubicon," the suspense drama AMC premiered over the summer, averaged just 2 million viewers out of the gate.
The heavily promoted "Walking Dead" also delivered an audience of 3.6 million 18-49-year-olds, making it the best series-premiere in that target demo for all of cable in 2010.
"It's a good day to be dead," said AMC president Charlie Collier. "We are so proud of this series, its depth of storytelling and the remarkable talent attached."
It was a win all around for the network, which used the zombie-themed post-apocalyptic original series to promote its annual weeklong "Fearfest" lineup of horror-movie presentations.
Of course, big premiere ratings are one thing, but AMC — now under the creative watch of Joel Stillerman — has high creative bar to clear in order to replace signature, aging originals like "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad."
So far, Stillerman — who replaced former network creative chief Rob Sorcher, now at the Cartoon Network — has had middling success launching new shows, with mini-series remake "The Prisoner" flatlining last fall and "Rubicon" debuting to a largely buzzless summer.
Can "Walking Dead" maintain its high viewer levels post-Halloween night, and without ample promotional spending — which, among other things, paid for extras in cities all over the world to don makeup and dress as zombies?
And perhaps more important to AMC's sizable brand prestige, can a derivative series — which is based on a comic book and plays almost exactly like Danny Boyle's 2002 hit "28 Days Later" — win Emmys?
We'll see in the coming weeks.