The Walking Dead’s Ratings Bubble is Going to Burst
The Walking Dead is the highest-rated series on all of television, not just cable, in the critical 18-49 demographic. It’s doing AMC’s best viewership numbers ever, even better than award-winning shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. However, the third season finale is going to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths and AMC is at risk of seeing many viewers tune out.
First, the numbers. The finale got a total of 12.4 million viewers overall and 8.1 million in the 18-49 demo. That brought the season’s average in the 18-49 demo to the highest in television this season. Hell, the Talking Dead after show (a wasteland of utter crap since switching to 60 minutes) managed to pull more 800,000 more viewers for its first airing than Game of Thrones’ first airing on HBO (5.2 million to 4.4 million). Basically, AMC is swimming in money from everything The Walking Dead.
Now, to say that The Walking Dead’s ratings aren’t sustainable isn’t exactly a bold prediction. What goes up must come down, right? However, I have more reasons than that.
The second season finale put the show on the right course. They finally had some epic scenes with the shootout at and escape from the farm. The survivors also ended up near the prison which was a pretty major setting in the comic book series and the comics set while the crew was there were well received by readers.
The third season finale basically undid all the goodwill the show had built up with both “new” and comic reading viewers alike. The exciting and well-written first half of the third season quickly gave way to a holding pattern in the second half while we were waiting for the inevitable final confrontation between Rick and The Governor.
Chekov’s Gun was basically the dramatic principle behind the second half of the season. Effectively, Chekov’s Gun is a principle about simple foreshadowing. The Governor planned to invade the prison. Rick was preparing to defend the prison from The Governor. Therefore, simple logic dictates that there will be a massive final confrontation between the two. It was what the writers had been setting up since the final episode of the fall portion of the season.
When every episode reinforces the fact that we’re getting an epic final battle and we don’t get that final battle, viewers are going to be disappointed. Heck, this could be more disappointing than the start of the second season which was a holding pattern as we waited for the pay-off of finding Sophia.
That’s not even counting some of the odd and confusing moments like Martinez and Nameless Henchman #3 not batting an eye lash at The Governor massacring half of Woodbury, Andrea getting a redemption in death that few cared about after being this season’s Lori (a character you hated due to their stupidity) and Rick going from not wanting to help anyone to taking in the survivors of Woodbury. It was an all around confusing episode and didn’t really leave me with any hook to make me want to come back.
The Zombie Bubble
There are a number of zombie movies coming out this year. The bigger ones include World War Z, R.I.P.D., The 4th Reich and Night of the Living Dead: Origins 3D. That doesn’t even include the recently released Warm Bodies. When you start including video games, you add the likes of Day Z, The War Z, Dead Island, and The Last of Us.
We have to be approaching critical mass of zombie content in all media. At a certain point, people are just going to get tired of zombies. They’ll get “zombied-out,” so to speak. If people start going “Ugh! Not another zombie show/movie/game,” it won’t bode well for The Walking Dead. Yes, it’ll still have that dedicated fan base who love all things zombie or read the comics but it’s the more casual audience that bumped TWD up to being the most viewed show on AMC.
The Video Game Effect
The upcoming SyFy series Defiance is trying something new by tying the Defiance MMO with the Defiance TV series. Their claim is that the game will affect the series and vice versa. Since the TV show won’t debut for another week-and-a-half, we don’t know how one will affect the other in terms of plot and viewership/gamer base.
I have no evidence to back this up because, to my knowledge, no study of this type has been undertaken. I have a theory that the quality of a video game tied into a franchise can have an effect on viewership. The problem is that there aren’t many TV licensed video games so the statistics to analyse are minimal. Season Two of TWD ended before the excellent Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead game. When the TV show returned, each episode had higher viewership than every episode of the first two seasons.
Because the recent Survival Instinct game came out near the end of the season, it probably wasn’t going to affect viewership even if there was some correlation (though not necessarily causation) between bad games and a drop in viewership. When coming back in the fall, it’s possible that gamers turned casual viewers might tune back out after the abomination that TWD: Survival Instinct was.
Again, this last one is just a theory but I think I might try digging into this one at some point when I have a bit more time.