Sunday’s premiere of new AMC drama Halt and Catch Fire drew just 1.2 million same-day viewers, apparently making it the least-watched drama series premiere in the network’s modern history. The ‘80s-set look at the dawn of the computer era managed even fewer viewers than the famously little-seen debuts of Mad Men (1.6 million in 2007) and Breaking Bad (1.4 million in 2008), and drew nearly half as many viewers as this spring’s debut of Turn (2.1 million). (In 2010, a June sneak preview of Rubicon attracted just 1.1 million viewers, but the show’s official, heavily hyped Sunday premiere in August brought in 2 million viewers.) Fire also skewed older, with Sunday’s premiere notching a weak 0.34 rating among viewers under 50. All in all, AMC had to be hoping for a better response to its latest attempt to fill the gap left by Breaking Bad and, soon, Mad Men. And yet, it would also be unwise to jump to any conclusions about the new show’s long-term prospects.
It’s worth noting, for example, that while Sunday marked the first time viewers could catch Fire on AMC proper, the network made last night’s pilot episode widely available for free streaming weeks ago. And according to network chief Charlie Collier, “The preview generated hundreds of thousands of plays and strong social media buzz — just off the results we can immediately measure.” There’s also the fact that time-shifting of cable premieres now results in numerous series doubling their viewerships within just a few days of airing, which means the final viewing tally for Fire could well end up much higher than it seems. And if the preview audience liked what it saw online, it’s even possible next week’s second episode could grow in ratings. If not, AMC execs may have to consider hitting reboot on their prestige-drama-development machine.