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A+E’s remake of Roots may not have a chance of duplicating the now-unfathomable ratings highs of the original 1977 miniseries, but the latest adaptation of Alex Haley’s epic novel got off to a very strong start on Monday night — despite aggressive competition.
Early Fast Nationals from Nielsen give Roots‘ Memorial Day debut an average 5.3 million viewers across the History, A&E and Lifetime networks. That makes it the most-watched cable miniseries opener since The Bible in 2013, a year when viewers were still slightly more inclined for a live tune-in.
Roots, which continues its four-night run on Tuesday, certainly had no lack of obstacles in finding an audience on Monday night. On top of the audience declines that come with the Memorial Day holiday, a great many of those tuning in were watching basketball. TNT’s coverage of the NBA Western Conference Finals averaged a record-shattering 16 million viewers.
The real pressure on Roots now is not necessarily to sustain its audience on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — but to grow that number with DVR and on-demand plays. A+E also is angling for prestige, premiering the mini within the window for 2016 Emmy eligibility. The critical response bodes well for that, with Roots averaging 83 out of 100 on review aggregator Metacritic.
Roots has a storied history with ratings. ABC’s original eight-part series is among the most-watched programs in television history, opening to 28.8 million viewers and ultimately climbing to 36.4 million. It cemented the appeal of miniseries for decades — and its original success was no doubt a factor in A+E developing the remake.