'Walking Dead' Returns with Record 17.3M Viewers

The fifth time was the charm for AMC's walkers.

The season-five premiere of the The Walking Dead on Sunday night delivered  17.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen live + same-day data. That was the largest audience in cable TV history for a drama series episode, surpassing the previous record-holder, the zombie show's fourth-season bow before 16.1 million, by 7%.

AMC renewed the series for a sixth campaign last week.

The Oct. 12 telecast also drew 11 million persons 18 to 49, a 6%, bump from the 10.4 million of those watchers for the season-four premiere, as the show continues to be television's best with the demo Madison Avenue prefers most. Sunday night’s episode outperformed everything else on television in this key demographic, including NBC's Sunday Night Football, by over 2.5 million adults in the aforementioned group.

With time-shifted playback, the season five premiere should exceed 22 million viewers, estimated AMC officials. With seven days of DVR playback included, the season-four premiere delivered 21.1 million total viewers and 13.9 million adults 18 to 49, becoming the most highly-rated episode in cable television history.

Talking Dead, the live aftershow, also enjoyed record ratings last night, as its fourth-season bow on Sunday was the highest-rated premiere in its history with 6.9 million viewers and 4.5 million in the demo, gains of 34% and 35%, respectively, from the start of last season.

“It’s a Dead man’s party. Who could ask for more?” said Charlie Collier, AMC president. “Enormous thanks to our friends and executive producers Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple, Greg Nicotero – who also directed last night’s terrific premiere – Gale Anne Hurd, Dave Alpert and Tom Luse and all of their fellow producers, cast and crew for everything they do to make the #1 show on television such a unique and incredible experience for the fans. The Walking Dead is one of those increasingly rare shows today that can command a live audience not significantly cannibalized by time-shifted viewing. Who would have thought that cannibalized television could be curtailed by cannibal-ized television?”