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How ‘Walking Dead’ May Become TV’s Top Scripted Show

A zombie show based on a comic book on a network no one cared about five years ago could surpass hits like "Modern Family"

Could AMC's "The Walking Dead" become the top-rated scripted show on TV?

Yes. It looks distinctly possible that a zombie show, based on a comic book, on a network no one paid much attention to just five years ago, could end the season ahead of juggernauts like "Modern Family" and "Big Bang Theory" in the most coveted demographic on television. At the very least, it could easily emerge as TV's top drama in the demo.

Also read: Famous Zombie Coming to 'Walking Dead'

No cable series has ever finished an entire season as TV's top-rated scripted show. If "The Walking Dead" it does, it will be a watershed moment in the history of television.

Settle in if you like underdog stories, because this is one — with zombies.

On Sunday, "The Walking Dead" season 3 premiere broke audience records for basic cable dramas by scaring up 10.9 million viewers. But forget that cable record, for a moment, because it also did something arguably more impressive.

By broadcast network standards, 10.9 million viewers would be strong, though not spectacular. What's more significant is that "The Walking Dead" thrived in the 18-49 demographic most important to advertisers. It scored a 5.8 rating, the highest for any scripted show that aired on any network – broadcast or cable — in a year.

Also read: 'Walking Dead' Breaks Basic Cable Record, Scores 10.9M Viewers

The last scripted show to beat a 5.8 in the demo was a "Modern Family" episode that earned a 5.9 last Oct. 12, almost exactly a year before "The Walking Dead" premiere.

"Modern Family" ended last season the top-rated scripted show on TV. (The top unscripted shows, in descending order, were NBC's "Sunday Night Football," Fox's "American Idol," and NBC's "The Voice.")

But "Walking Dead" could become TV's top scripted show this year if the ratings hold. And there there is reason to believe they can — because the audience for "Walking Dead" has grown like a horde of zombies. 

The show set a cable viewing record with its season 2 premiere, then broke it with its midseason return, then broke it again with its finale. And broke it again Sunday.

Getty ImagesDid we mention that "The Walking Dead" aired against "Sunday Night Football" in much of the country? Or that it isn't carried by satellite provider Dish, which is locked in a dispute with AMC?

Those facts aside, "The Walking Dead" would still seem an unlikely hit. Underdogs don't come from much closer to the ground.

Also read: 'Walking Dead' Boss Glen Mazzara Q&A: Sleeping Soundly, Keeping Others Wide Awake

It sprang from the imagination of childhood friends Robert Kirkman (right) and Tony Moore, two Kentucky kids who dreamed of publishing their own comics. The "Walking Dead" series, which debuted in 2003, was only one of their collaborations.

AMC, meanwhile, was best known for rerunning old movies until it broke through with "Mad Men" in 2007.

Did anyone think then that a zombie comic crossed with a rebranded movie network would spawn one of television's biggest hits? A show that also happens to be incredibly violent and gory? Sunday's premiere began with a close-up of a clouded zombie eye, and ended with a man getting his leg sawed off with no anesthetic.

It's not mainstream stuff, and for that reason, there are limits to the potential reach of "The Walking Dead."

Neither it nor any other scripted show has much chance of beating "Sunday Night Football." And despite its success in the key demo, "Walking Dead" will probably never come close to the number of total viewers earned by older-skewing shows like "NCIS" and "Dancing With the Stars."

But those 18-49 ratings still make AMC salivate like so many drooling… you get the idea.