Mad Men Season5
Credit: AMC

After a 17-month absence, a heavy marketing campaign and a flood of adoring publicity, TV’s most critically acclaimed drama returned Sunday night to record ratings.

The fifth-season debut of AMC’s Mad Men delivered 3.5 million viewers for its two-hour premiere. That’s up 21 percent from 2010’s fourth-season premiere, which marked the show’s previous all-time high. Of those viewers, about 1.6 million were adults 18-49. The fourth season averaged about 2.4 million viewers, including DVR playback. Mad Men‘s first season averaged about 925,000 viewers.

Mad Men‘s production was postponed after a protracted renewal negotiation between the show’s creator Matthew Weiner, studio Lionsgate and network AMC. Was it worth the wait? EW’s Ken Tucker wrote: “Mad Men got off to a very slow start on Sunday night, as though daring you to become absorbed in it again, but as the two hours proceeded, the show launched at least four rather magnificent set-piece scenes that remind you not just how good the series can be, but also how different it is from anything else TV has seen…” click here to read the rest.

And what’s coming next? Dan Snierson has the scoop on that, with Weiner teasing each character’s story lines this season.

Mad Men‘s performance marks the latest in a string of ratings success stories for AMC. Breaking Bad (2.6 million viewers) and The Walking Dead (7.3 million viewers) also returned to new heights for their most recent premieres.

But will the network maintain its momentum next weekend with the return of The Killing after last year’s freshman season finale was considered a let down by some fans?

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