'The Walking Dead' returns to jaw-dropping record ratings

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The Walking Dead has done it again.

Another. ANOTHER. Series-high rating.

Sunday night’s midseason return of the AMC zombie drama delivered 12.3 million viewers and a 6.1 adults 18-49 rating — its biggest yet in both measurements.

And that was against The Grammys.

To give you an idea of how stunning this performance is, ABC’s Once Upon a Time sank to a series low 2.2 in the adult demo last night and Fox’s Family Guy went down to a 2.4 — and those are the broadcast shows that performed the best against the music awards show.

Put another way: Last Thursday’s American Idol had 13.3 million viewers and a 4.1 rating and Wednesday’s edition had 14.3 million and a 4.6 rating. So in the all-important adult demo — if not total viewers — The Walking Dead beat last week’s American Idol telecasts. In fact, The Walking Dead‘s average for its current third season in the demo is higher than top broadcast shows like Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory and NCIS. And among cable, there’s no comparison — last night’s episode was the biggest adult demo number ever for a basic cable series.

Oh, and if you include The Walking Dead‘s encore telecast, the show’s viewership rises to 16.6 million for the night.

These ratings must confound broadcast executives. Because so much that’s on the air now is struggling to get noticed, straining to do even a 3.0 rating, especially dramas. To see a cable show pull out a 6.1 is enough to cause an existential crisis. That its a show that broadcast executives ultimately rejected before it landed at AMC must sting too (not that broadcast could get away with AMC’s level of graphic content).

“When you look at numbers like this, the first thing that comes to mind is how grateful we are to the fans of this show,” said Charlie Collier, AMC’s president. “They embrace The Walking Dead in a way that we wanted to believe was possible but we never take for granted.The cast and crew put everything they have into making this show. They’re a phenomenally talented group who truly give their all. We congratulate everyone involved.”

You want a little more Walking Dead, do you? Here’s EW’s interview with showrunner Glen Mazzara about the episode. Here’s our interview with Robert Kirkman about the episode. Here’s our interview with Sarah Wayne Callies about the episode. Here’s our recap of the episode. Here’s our commemorative Walking Dead paperweights. It’s an EW Walking Dead fire sale, all Walking Dead content must go!

PREVIOUS: What The Walking Dead can teach broadcast TV.

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