You’ve probably heard that The Walking Dead is doing great this season. But what about Showtime’s Homeland and Dexter? And how about HBO’s Boardwalk Empire?
Nielsen releases TV ratings the day after a show airs — except ratings for Sunday night cable shows. They’re typically not revealed until Tuesday, and by that time the Interwebs have often moved on to the next shiny news topic. We’re guilty of that too, so let’s do some catch-up.
The leader of the big Sunday night cable dramas is, of course, The Walking Dead. It’s doing … I can’t even write about how well it’s doing without having a ratings geek-out. Including seven days of DVR, the AMC zombie drama is averaging 13.4 million viewers and a 7.1 rating among adults 18-49. That’s bigger than any other entertainment series in the demo. Like, No. 2 is ABC’s Modern Family with a 6.7 in the demo and CBS’ Big Bang Theory is No. 3 with a 6.5. Of course, among total viewers, it’s a different story, though still big — The Walking Dead ties 60 Minutes for No. 15. The Walking Dead is also up 35 percent from last fall.
The other Sunday cable dramas are well below The Walking Dead, but they really shouldn’t be knocked for it.
The second most-watched cable drama on the night is HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (3.4 million viewers, 1.4 in demo). We haven’t heard much about Boardwalk this season, but aside from a couple dull episodes that aired recently (not this week’s hour), the period drama has been creatively strong. Bobby Cannavale as the show’s new villain has given the series plenty of tense energy. Still, Boardwalk is down 10 percent from last season.
Right on Boardwalk‘s heels is the seventh season of Showtime’s Dexter. The serial killer thriller is up 14 percent from last season with 3.3 million viewers and 1.7 in the demo. The writers seem like they’re trying a little too hard to keep the format the same (given what Debra learned in last season’s finale, everything should have radically changed). But overall this season seems far more grounded and intriguing than last year’s mess. Like with Boardwalk, the new bad guy has helped — in this case, Ray Stevenson as a Ukrainian mobster out for revenge.
Last, and by no means least, is Showtime’s riveting Homeland, averaging 3 million viewers and 1.4 in the demo. The political thriller is up a whopping 52 percent from the first season. This is the only show where I’ll watch episodes on my laptop before they air via a low-res press screening site because I cannot wait to see what happens next.
How things have changed. Only a few years ago cable networks were scared to air dramas during the fall out of fear of competing with the big broadcast networks. Now Sunday is arguably the most DVR-busting night of the week for fans of bold and compelling TV dramas.
Speaking of: There’s one broadcast show I want to give a shout-out to that airs against some of these others: CBS’ The Mentalist (12 million, 2.5 demo), which is supposed to air at 10 p.m. but has been getting shoved into primetime’s nether regions thanks to the network’s Sunday football overrun. The Mentalist was on my DVR’s endangered species list. But this season has had, along with a few goofy and by-the-book procedural hours, some stand-out episodes.
Last Sunday’s episode directed by the show’s star Simon Baker was my favorite episode of the show ever. The story had Patrick Jane (Baker) on a road trip with his fugitive ex-lover, trying to convince her to reveal information about a serial killer. The episode broke the show’s usual format, felt soulful and suspenseful and … why, it felt like a cable drama! Since broadcast dramas still do better in the ratings, on average, than cable dramas, you can argue about whether that’s a good or bad thing (and whether, given the growth trends, that’s still going to be the case in a few more years).