Breaking Bad Returns to Its Biggest Ratings Ever

Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Yeah, bitch! Ratings! Breaking Bad attracted its biggest audience ever Sunday, luring 5.9 million viewers to the kickoff of its final eight episodes. That's basically double the show's past record, set last year with the season five midseason cliff-hanger (2.98 million viewers). Bad dominated with younger viewers, averaging an estimated 2.8 rating among adults under 50, easily beating everything on broadcast TV in the demo Sunday, and likely surpassing the demo numbers for HBO's True Blood, too. But here's the most impressive stat: Bad was seen by just 1.4 million viewers when it bowed in January 2008, and improved only slightly with its season two (1.7 million) premiere. Basically, the show has quadrupled its audience in five years, and it's done so in an era of widespread Nielsen declines (even for cable networks). It's also now far bigger than Mad Men, which has never gotten more than 3.5 million viewers for an initial telecast.

The bad news for AMC is that Breaking Bad couldn't do much to turn Low Winter Sun. Apparently deciding they don't need another (anti-)hero, less than half of the Bad audience stuck around for the Detroit-based cop drama. LWS averaged 2.5 million viewers, which is exactly the same tune-in for the season-three premiere of AMC's Hell on Wheels this weekend. The difference: Hell did that number on the low-viewership Saturday, and without a big lead-in from Bad (or a cheesy stunt like the one AMC pulled Sunday, when it tried to force Bad fans to watch the first act of LWS in order to see the coming attractions for next week's Bad). Bottom line: What's impressive on a Saturday is disappointing, at least, on Sunday. That said, the enormous growth of Bad over the last five years shows that modest initial ratings don't necessarily mean doom for a show. One last note: AMC's Breaking Bad talk show, Talking Bad, was pretty much ignored, drawing a paltry 1.2 million viewers.