'Walking Dead' Season 3 Ratings: Show's 12.3 Million Viewers a Big Win For Cable, Not Quality


In case you aren't familiar with AMC's The Walking Dead, it's the zombie-porn series. You know, the one in which the only way to kill a zombie is to hit it in the brain and you can empty a clip into an approaching zombie's torso, fail to slow it, and then stab it in the eye with a rusty spike to kill it. Yeah, that one with the, uh, characters, and, you know, plot and like such as. It had its Season 3B mid-season premiere last night, and garnered 12.3 million viewers

The first half of the season premiered with 10.5 million viewers, and it finished the season as the fall TV show with the most viewers in the marketer-coveted 18-49 category. Which is to say it won. And it's on cable. This was the first time that had ever happened. If the second half of the season premiered with 12.3 million, it seems safe to say that The Walking Dead will continue to break records, even if they're its own records. I just wish the show were better. And the fact that its on AMC makes it stand in sharp contrast to actual quality TV.

Not that the Emmys are foolproof, but looking at nominations can give you a ballpark idea of what's good in TV. And oh, are the results revealing. Mad Men and Breaking Bad just clean up in the mainstream categories. Mad Men took Best Drama Series for its first four years, and Bryan Cranston won three straight for Best Actor in a Drama Series. Even when they aren't winning, the shows fill the ballots for acting, writing, directing, and best drama series. On the other hand, The Walking Dead only gets love from specific Creative Arts Emmys: Special Effects, Sound Editing, and Makeup. It deserves all this love, and no more. Because it's not a complex show. At all. In fact, some people argue (and I agree with them) that The Walking Dead is better when it doesn't meddle with things like "storytelling" and "themes" and stuff. 

It's terrifying how many more viewers The Walking Dead gets than Mad Men and Breaking Bad, considering how good they are. Mad Men's best season premiere was 3.54 million, and Breaking Bad's was 2.9. That puts the Walking Dead premiere at roughly twice Mad Men and Breaking Bad combined. It's a juggernaut. 

I've written before about how the toppling of network is an evolution for TV. So if network is Goliath, then AMC's The Walking Dead is David. And we're Darwin, or something. So for those of us who spend their days rooting for TV to get better, a cable show out-performing network is a good thing. A great thing. I remember hearing about this dude Adam Smith in school who had all these ideas about how when we compete against each other, we all win. Still don't totally get how that works, but I trust the man. More channels (cable's got a lot!) means more competition, means better TV. All signs indicate that Smith's theory applies to TV quality, as well. 

But it's a bittersweet moment. In terms of "good," The Walking Dead is the ugly cousin at AMC's dinner table. But I guess that's why David Chase's opening line for the final season of The Sopranos will go down as his wisest: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."