If HBO wants to make a second season of The Night Of, it need look no further than the Nielsen ratings to justify the decision. Sunday’s super-sized finale drew 2.2 million viewers, easily the largest same-day audience in the show’s two-month run. What’s most impressive about the ratings is the show’s trajectory over eight episodes. The 2.2 million figure is triple the tune-in for the show’s July 10 linear premiere, which attracted a decidedly modest 774,000 same-day viewers. HBO had previewed the show online for a few weeks in advance, so the opener’s Nielsen numbers were likely depressed somewhat. But episode two (which wasn’t previewed digitally) still attracted just 1.3 million viewers, little more than half the number who caught Sunday’s finale. Clearly, strong word of mouth for The Night Of resulted in many viewers catching up on the show via HBO GO or HBO Now, then circling back to traditional HBO to see the show’s resolution. Indeed, HBO last week noted that, counting all platforms, The Night Of is actually drawing a weekly audience of seven million viewers, on par with the network’s second-season hit Ballers.
Audience growth between premiere and finale is rare these days, though not unprecedented. Fox’s Empire famously added viewers between each of its first 12 episodes during the winter of 2015. And in the winter of 2014, season one of another HBO limited series, True Detective, experienced a similar — but smaller — growth spurt. The Woody Harrelson/Matthew McConaughey thriller, which benefited from more hype (and star power) premiered with 2.3 million same-day viewers and wrapped with 3.5 million. The viewer surge helped convince HBO to order a second cycle of Detective, but while the sophomore effort earned slightly better ratings, critical and fan reaction to the season all but erased the good feelings toward the franchise. No doubt HBO execs and the producers of The Night Of will consider Detective’s fate when it comes time to make a final call on an encore.