"Mad Men" may finally have the ratings to match its hype and critical acclaim.
AMC’s signature drama set network records with its third season premiere Sunday, averaging a highball-worthy 2.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen data released by the network. That’s the show’s biggest audience ever, and the best ratings ever for an AMC series telecast.
The season three "Mad Men" premiere was up an eye-popping 34 percent from the show’s season two launch. Among adults 18-49, the show did even better, leaping more than 70 percent (from 705,000 viewers in the demo to 1.2 million).
Despite critical adoration, "Mad Men" has always been more of a media darling than a viewer sensation. The series has never come close to garnering the viewership of cable hits such as "The Closer" or anything on USA Network.
Last season, for example, the average episode of "Mad Men" drew just 1.5 million viewers. TNT was just forced to say goodbye to "Saving Grace" because the studio behind the series couldn’t make the show work financially, even though it attracts 3.5 million viewers per week.
The question now, of course, is whether "Mad Men" can hold on to most of its premiere ratings.
AMC heavily marketed the premiere of the series with a provocative on-air campaign playing up the sex appeal of the show’s characters. It’s not unusual for big cable dramas to lose as much as 20 or 30 percent of their premiere numbers in subsequent weeks. AMC will no doubt be hoping to limit that dropoff as much as possible.
Meanwhile, it was a good night all around for cable dramas Sunday. Lifetime says its "Drop Dead Diva" and "Army Wives" had their best numbers of the season in key female demos.