tv ratings

Hatfields & McCoys Scored Because the Over-50 Set Loves Feuds

Photo: Chris Large

History’s just-wrapped Hatfields & McCoys drew a lot of viewers during its bloody three-night run, wrapping up last night with a undeniably impressive audience of 14.3 million battle-hungry souls. Nothing on cable — or, most likely, broadcast TV — will draw a bigger crowd this week. And when Emmy nominations are announced later this summer, do not be surprised if Kevin Costner’s comeback vehicle ends up with a slew of nominations (perhaps more than anything else on TV this year, given the so-so competition in the long-form categories). But without spitting in the face of History’s success (did anyone else notice how many loogies were tossed during H&M?), we feel compelled to point out one notable fact about the whole event: Its massive popularity was driven by older viewers. Lots and lots of older viewers.

Consider Monday’s premiere episode: While it attracted 13.9 million viewers overall, only 4.9 million were adults under the age of 50. Since H&M didn’t do particularly well with teens, that means most of the audience — roughly 60 percent — qualified for an AARP card. The under-50 audience shrank a tad on Tuesday and bounced back last night, rising to 5.1 million. And while History correctly points out that H&M stands as the most-watched entertainment broadcast on an ad-supported cable network, among younger viewers, the mini’s performance was nowhere near as noteworthy. Case in point: Its three-night average of 4.9 million adults under 50 doesn’t even come close to matching the 5.7 million viewers who watched last August’s season four premiere of MTV’s Jersey Shore or the 6.2 million under-50s who checked out a random January 2011 episode of JS. It was below the 5.4 million young adult tune-in for this winter’s season-two bow of AMC’s The Walking Dead. And it wasn’t even in the neighborhood of last year’s edition of MTV’s Video Music Awards, which drew a whopping 8.1 million adults under 50. And if you prefer a more recent example of H&M’s non-specialness with younger viewers, consider this: Among adults under 35, Tuesday’s episode earned the same rating as that same evening’s episode of Comedy Central’s Tosh.0.

None of this means that H&M is anything but a spectacular success for History. While the young-adult numbers might not shatter any records, they’re still huge by cable standards and even bigger than many shows on broadcast TV (particularly if said shows air on NBC). In terms of shattering records, however, H&M  didn’t quite get there in the key ad demo. Perhaps that’s a good thing, though: Now the execs at History have a new goal for their next original long-form production. Maybe James Franco as Benjamin Franklin?

Why Did Hatfields & McCoys Do So Well?