Success for an original scripted cable program has increasingly new perspectives.
AMC's "Mad Men" posted a whopping two million viewers -- double what it had a year before. Is that a success -- for an advertising-supported cable network? Maybe just for AMC.
Keep in mind shows like TNT's "The Closer" can grab anywhere from 8 million to 9 million viewers. HBO's "The Sopranos," at its best, grabbed 13.4 million viewers (season three premiere). By comparison, the same night "Mad Men" premiered -- this past Sunday -- with two million viewers, a rerun of "Desperate Housewives" on ABC offered up three million viewers.
Surely, AMC gets great PR benefits from the Golden Globe-award-winning, and now 15-time Emmy- nominated series. New TV producers will now flock to AMC -- perhaps more viewers as well.
Give AMC its due. Though it has been around a long time, it has really just begun a big push toward original programming. "Expectations are a little bit different with every cable network," said Horizon Media's Brad Adgate.
If you are an HBO executive, you are probably smacking yourself in the head. You had Matt Weiner's attention (the creator of "Mad Men") when he was a writer for "The Sopranos." But you let "Mad Men" go thinking it probably wouldn't amount to anything.
With all HBO's savvy when it comes to marketing, "Mad Men" possibly could have at least doubled its audience to 4 million by now -- a modest performance for an original HBO scripted series. An HBO series with two million viewers would probably be considered a failure.
For years, people complained that HBO's shows -- while critically acclaimed -- couldn't hold a candle in terms of viewers to broadcast network prime-time shows - or even some mature advertising-supported cable programs.
People will talk about the small ratings for Showtime's "Dexter," or the tiny "Damages" ratings on FX -- but AMC may be setting a new level with "Mad Men," in light of its attention in the press and certainly as a record-breaking Emmy nominated show.
Perhaps all this is a warm-up for TV industry executives in future years -- getting them used to low viewing levels when more original TV series debut on the Internet.