'The Walking Dead': How to comprehend its massive ratings

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The Walking Dead‘s ratings are big. Like really, really big.

It’s actually become a tad difficult to describe how big they are. AMC’s zombie drama is huge among total viewers — averaging nearly 19.9 million per episode when including seven days of DVR playback. But what’s truly stunning is the show’s adults 18-49 rating, the number that matters most to advertisers. That most recent average rating — a 10.3 with DVR — is second to nothing. Which makes comparisons tricky. So I put together this guide to give The Walking Dead‘s dominance some perspective. Note: Every show’s average below is only counting episodes with seven full days of DVR playback available, so this uses everybody’s largest currently available demo rating.

The Walking Dead is 23 percent bigger among adults 18-49 than NBC’s Sunday Night Football (8.4), which is broadcast’s top rated weekly telecast.

The biggest entertainment nowadays is CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (7.7), which has more viewers than The Walking Dead. But its demo rating is nowhere close.

You know ABC’s Scandal (4.8)? One of the biggest hits on TV, right? Well, The Walking Dead doubles its rating.

In fact, The Walking Dead is about equal to almost five episodes of CBS’ The Mentalist (2.3).

And seven episodes of NBC’s Sean Saves the World (1.5).

You can fit about nine episodes of The CW’s Arrow (1.1), Comedy Central’s The Daily Show (1.1), TNT’s Franklin & Bash (1.0) or HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (1.2) inside The Walking Dead.

Or roughly 51 episodes of Fox News’ Hannity (0.19).

Okay! I feel like you get the point. It beats everything. So what IS bigger than The Walking Dead?

Well, we would need to travel back in time to find a regularly scheduled entertainment program that beats how The Walking Dead has performed at the start of its fourth season. Broadcast ratings have been shrinking over the years, and even the increasing use of adding seven days of DVR playback into the ratings doesn’t change that trend.

So how about we do that? Let’s go back in time to find a show that beats these L7 ratings of The Walking Dead. Broadcast executives will howl at this because we’re comparing The Walking Dead‘s first couple episodes, which will be higher rated than most, to the full-season averages of their shows. By the end of the season, The Walking Dead‘s average will almost certainly be lower than it is now. But hey: The show is on cable, with smaller distribution than the big broadcasters. And this is merely to demonstrate how big The Walking Dead is at its recent peak.

So last season? Some show’s average rating including DVR probably beats The Walking Dead’s start of season 4, right?

No.

Okay, What about the season before that?

Nope.

And what about the season before THAT?

Getting warmer! But no.

Wow. And the next season? Where are we at now? That’s 2009-10 right?

Yes.

Yes? A show beats The Walking Dead?

No. You asked what season we’re at. Yes, 2009-10 is correct.

So… does any show beat The Walking Dead?

No.

C’mon, really? And the 2008-9 season?

Let’s see here … the chart, says ….. No. But we’re getting super close! Keep going.

Should I even ask? What about the next season?

Yes.

Really?

Yes. When including seven days of DVR playback, Fox’s American Idol on Tuesday (11.3) and Wednesday nights (10.8) in the 2007-08 season beats the start of The Walking Dead season 4, yes.

Does anything else besides American Idol that year beat The Walking Dead?

No.

What about the season before that?

No. And do you really want to start this again? Because we’re now losing Live+7. From 2004-05 and going into the past, we only have ratings for the night a show airs, like we’re prehistoric savages beating TV ratings out of a Nielsen People Meter with a club.

Well, I’m curious … 2004-05 season: Anything beat The Walking Dead? Isn’t Friends on yet?

Desperate Housewives barely edges it out with a 10.4. And no.

When was the last year before that a non-Idol TV series had a higher 18-49 average rating than 10.3?

That would be 2002-03 — Fox’s Joe Millionaire (12.1) and the second-to-last final season of NBC’s Friends (10.4).

What else from the past beats The Walking Dead?

Lot of stuff once you start going back in time, stripping away all those cable channels and the Internet, when broadcast ratings were enormous. Like:

The second season of CBS’ Survivor (12.6) beats The Walking Dead.

The final season of Seinfeld (18.0) in 97-98 completely trounces The Walking Dead.

And if you go all the way back to 1995-96, even shows like NBC’s Caroline in the City (14.0) and Single Guy (12.6) beat The Walking Dead.

Point is: The Walking Dead‘s ratings? They are really big.

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