Mad Men returned for its sixth season nearly matching last year’s performance.
Sunday night’s premiere garnered 3.4 million viewers, almost equaling last year’s 3.5 million viewers, which was a series high for the show. Last year’s fifth season opener jumped 41 percent from the previous year. So it appears Madison Avenue period drama’s popularity may be evening out.
Here’s a question for you: Is Mad Men a hit? AMC’s breakthrough drama has consistently garnered enormous critical acclaim and armfuls of awards. Yet it’s long been considered a weak performer in the ratings, a show that was surviving year after year due to its quality and prestige more than its popularity. That’s especially been the case since AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead jacked up the bar on what was possible for AMC a couple years ago.
But this premiere total is still bigger than the premiere of A&E’s new drama Bates Motel (3 million), which just earned a no-brainer second season renewal. It nearly matches the fourth season premiere of FX’s Justified (3.6 million), and nobody questions that show’s success. It’s bigger than last year’s series premiere of buzz-heavy American Horror Story (3.2 million).
By the standards of basic cable dramas, Mad Men is arguably a modest-to-solid hit when calculating total viewers — if not adults 18-49 — especially if it wasn’t “Mad Men,” and all the lofty baggage that goes along with its title.
Ironically, the very series that’s made Mad Men’s numbers look small — The Walking Dead — almost certainly helped keep last night’s premiere afloat. AMC aggressively promoted the return of Mad Men during the zombie mega-hit’s recent closing episodes of the season, including its series-high third season finale.