'Walking Dead' Returns With Series Best 12.3 Million Viewers

The Walking Dead Carl Rick Mid Season 3 Premiere - H 2013
Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead Carl Rick Mid Season 3 Premiere - H 2013

AMC's The Walking Dead returned from its two-month winter hiatus -- which featured a fourth-season renewal and the departure of showrunner Glen Mazzara -- on Sunday, where it scored a series best in total viewers.

Season three's midseason premiere collected 12.3 million total viewers in its initial broadcast at 9 p.m., more than the 10.9 million who tuned in to the season three opener. The total viewer record is up 5 percent over season two's midseason bow.

In the adults 18-49 demo, the episode -- up against the Grammys on CBS -- scored 7.7 million total viewers, the strongest telecast in basic-cable history in the metric and up 6 percent over the October opener. So far this season, the zombie drama is averaging 6.8 million adults in the demo, outperforming everything including The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family and NCIS in the measure. The demo is up 44 percent compared with season two's midseason premiere. Among adults 25-54, the 9 p.m. broadcast scored 6.7 million viewers, up 51 percent year-over-year.

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Season three of the series is averaging as the No. 1 ad-supported drama series in basic-cable history among total viewers, adults 18-49, 25-54, 18-35, men 18-49, men 25-54 and men 18-34.

October's third-season premiere scored 10.9 million total viewers, making it the highest-rated episode in series history, up more than 50 percent from its record-breaking season two premiere. The episode previously stood as the biggest telecast for any drama series in basic-cable history among total viewers. In the key advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demo, the 9 p.m. broadcast collected 7.3 million viewers, with 6.1 million among adults 25-54 -- all series bests at the time.

Factoring in broadcasts at 9 p.m., 11 p.m., midnight and 2 a.m., the series based on the comics by Robert Kirkman collected 16.6 million total viewers during the course of the night. When combining all four airings, the 18-49 demo numbers rise to 10.7 million and 8.9 million in adults 25-54.

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Some ratings highlights from the series:

• Season 3 midseason premiere, Feb. 10, 2013: 12.3 million total viewers*, 6.8 million in 19-49, 6.7 million in 25-54*

• Season 3 midseason finale, Dec. 2, 2012: 10.5 million total viewers, 6.9 million in 18-49, 6 million in 25-54

• Season 3 premiere, Oct. 14, 2012: 10.9 million total viewers, 7.3 million in 18-49, 6.1 million in 25-54*

• Season 2 finale, March 18, 2012: 9 million total viewers, 6 million in 18-49, 5.3 million in 25-54*

• Season 2 midseason premiere, Feb. 12, 2012: 8.1 million total, 5.4 million* in 18-49, 4.4 million* in 25-54

• Season 2 premiere, Oct. 16, 2011: 7.3 million total, 4.8 million* in 18-49, 4.2 million* in 25-54

• Season 2 midseason finale, Nov. 27, 2011: 6.6 million total, 4.5 million in 18-49, 3.9 million in 25-54

• Season 1 finale, Dec. 5 2010: 6 million total, 4 million in 18-49, 3.5 million in 25-54

• Season 1 premiere, Oct. 31, 2010: 5.4 million total viewers, 2.7 million in 18-49

* Record at the time

"When you look at numbers like this, the first thing that comes to mind is how grateful we are to the fans of this show. They embrace The Walking Dead in a way that we wanted to believe was possible but we never take for granted,” said Charlie Collier, AMC president. “The cast and crew put everything they have into making this show. They’re a phenomenally talented group who truly give their all. We congratulate everyone involved.”

Meanwhile, Chris Hardwicke's Walking Dead postshow The Talking Dead -- the first in its new hour-long format -- collected 4.1 million total viewers at 10 p.m., up considerably from the 2.2 million that December's midseason finale premiere scored.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit