AMC’s Dead cert

Andy Fry
By Andy Fry
August 28, 2015

Hit & Miss
Fear the Walking Dead - the most successful series premier in US cable history
Fear the Walking Dead provided AMC with the most successful series premiere in US cable history

With all the hype and heritage, it’s no surprise that The Walking Dead spin-off Fear the Walking Dead (FTWD) started so strongly last week.

Debuting on August 23 on AMC, it delivered 10.1 million live/same-day viewers “becoming the number-one series premiere in US cable television history for total viewers and all key demos.”

That’s according to AMC, which added that the cable network is now home to “three of the top five cable series premieres of all time in live/same-day viewing – Fear the Walking Dead, Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead – a remarkable accomplishment so far into the post-DVR era.” It’s interesting to note that two of these series are spin-offs.

AMC and SundanceTV president Charlie Collier said: “It is increasingly difficult to evaluate a show’s success on night one. However, we are releasing these live/same-day ratings because Fear the Walking Dead delivered record-breaking numbers that are all the more special in this era of time-shifted viewing and audience fragmentation.

“To have a companion series to the number-one show on television driving communal, urgent viewing, social activity and pop-cultural relevance of this magnitude is truly differentiating. Of course, none of it is possible without the fans, whose passion leads to these results.”

AMC is airing six episodes of FTWD this autumn, before taking a break until 2016. The key figures to watch out for now are how many time-shifted viewers it picks up in the run-up to episode two, how well it sustains audience for episode two, and what kind of response it gets internationally.

The series premiered simultaneously on AMC Global in more than 125 countries so some figures might start trickling in over the next few weeks.

Omari Hardwick in Starz' Power
Omari Hardwick in Starz’ Power

Meanwhile, our only clues regarding FTWD’s prospects are reviews and ratings. IMDb gives the show a rating of 8 at the moment, which is something of an amber alert, suggesting that the audience was not especially gripped by episode one.

Variety was also disparaging, calling the 90-minute debut “too much like a snore, narrowly following a single, not-terribly-interesting family, and leaning heavily on musical cues to stoke a sense of suspense. A second episode begins to propel the story forward, thankfully, but for starters, anyway, it’s more a snack than a feast.”

Forbes’ assessment was that episode one was “not bad” but it did have a gripe with what it called “disposable black men syndrome. Not one, but two, fairly important black male characters die off in the first episode. This after tons of criticism of The Walking Dead for doing the exact same thing. I struggle to find what AMC and showrunners David Erickson and Robert Kirkman can possibly be thinking here. No major white character dies in this episode.”

One show that doesn’t have this problem is Starz’ Power, which is also a strong performer in the US cable market. On August 15, the second-season finale set a Starz series record in Live+3 ratings with 2.39 million viewers, outperforming the previous week’s record of 2.29 million and up 51% compared with the first run’s finale, which pulled in 1.59 million.

With such strong ratings, Starz will feel vindicated in having ordered a third season of Power just as it was launching season two. For those not familiar with the show, Power tells the story of a wealthy New York nightclub owner living a double life as a drug kingpin. It was created by Courtney Kemp Agboh and counts Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson among its executive producers.

Witnesses has achieved disappointing figures on Channel 4
Witnesses has achieved disappointing figures on Channel 4

Also of interest to number-crunchers is that Power is consistently one of the most requested shows on Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand, which delivers three billion hours of time-shifted TV a year.

In the UK, French-language drama Witnesses limped to the end of its run with an audience of just 290,000 on Channel 4 (C4). Over six episodes, it averaged 359,000 viewers at 22.00. This is a disappointing figure when you consider that another French drama, The Returned, achieved an audience of 1.2 million on C4 last year at 21.00.

Witnesses is a good show that rated well in France and was reviewed positively in the UK. So the only real conclusion that can be drawn is that the audience for foreign-language drama doesn’t want to watch at 21.00. Perhaps this is borne out by the fact that BBC4 is currently picking up an audience of 600,000 an episode for Italian drama Young Montelbano, which it airs in a 21.00 slot. C4 may have felt that Witnesses was too gruesome to air at 21.00, but it’s a point to keep in mind next time it acquires foreign-language fare.

On the drama distribution front, All3media International has secured a number of sales for Eleventh Hour Films’ “returnable miniseries” Safe House, including France 3 and Germany’s ZDF Neo.

Safe House has secured international sales
Safe House has secured international sales

The four-hour thriller debuted on the UK’s ITV in April this year, securing a decent 25% share in primetime. Peter Grant, the senior VP of sales who concluded the deals for France and Germany, said: “Safe House sees Christopher Eccleston lead a cast of internationally renowned talent in this fresh and contemporary take on the investigative crime genre. We knew this sophisticated ‘event’ thriller would play out well with our international broadcasters and are delighted to announce such a strong line-up of deals. The drama made its UK debut to great reviews and 5.6 million primetime viewers, which has only fuelled global demand.”

Returning to the US, a mid-season check suggests USA Networks’ decision to renew Suits for a sixth season was the right one. After nine episodes, the show’s ratings are actually ahead of where they were at the start of the season (circa 2.3 million viewers).

Meanwhile, the channel has postponed the finale of season one of Mr Robot until September 2, following the on-air murder of two journalists in Virginia this week. The network said: “The previously filmed season finale of Mr Robot contains a graphic scene similar in nature to today’s tragic events in Virginia. Out of respect to the victims, their families and colleagues, and our viewers, we are postponing tonight’s episode. Our thoughts go out to all those affected during this difficult time.”

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