Mad Men, the critically acclaimed AMC cable drama set in the 1960s seems to be losing viewer attention even as its colors grow brighter. The initial season was set in 1962. The series has moved ahead to 1968 when clothing and culture in general were much snazier — and Sunday night’s premiere episode was set largely in sunny Los Angeles rather than dreary New York.
But Mad Men fans apparently like things bleak because the premiere episode shed 1.1 million viewers compared to last year’s Season Six opener. Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men attracted 2.3 million viewers, losing almost one of every three viewers who watched the Season Six premiere. That episode drew 3.4 million.
Of the 2.3 million who actually did watch, less than half — just 1 million — fell into the all-important 18-49 year old age group, the demographic category prized by advertisers who pay the bills for most television programming.
But advertisers do not pay the bills for pay subscription network HBO, whose Game of Thrones episode — the second of Season Four — pulled in 6.3 million making the broadcast the second-most-watched episode of Game of Thrones ever. The episode lost only 300,000 viewers from last weekend’s season premiere.
It should be noted that Mad Men has never been a ratings champion. Of the 80 Mad Men episodes to air so far, the best performance came from the March 2012 Season Five premiere, which drew 3.54 million.
That number is still a mere fraction of the network’s ratings flagship, The Walking Dead, which pulled in 15.7 million viewers for its most recent season finale just two weeks ago. And that wasn’t even the highest-rated episode of The Walking Dead. Last fall’s season premiere drew 16.1 million.
Of course, the two shows are as different in their content as in their Nielsen performance. The Walking Dead combines two ever-popular genres. It’s essentially a soap opera that takes place during a zombie apocalypse.
But Mad Men is somewhat unclassifiable. If anything it is a period-piece character study about largely dislikable characters in a period that most of the target audience doesn’t remember. A 49-year old viewer in 2014 was three years old in 1968. An 18-year-old Mad Men viewer, if such a person actually exists, wasn’t born until 1996.