Two cable shows return tonight with their second season premieres, HBO’s Game of Thrones and AMC’s The Killing. The worldview of television defined by the sliver that comprises the TV digerati (or at least the Twitterati) can be summed up as follows:
- Game of Thrones is one of the best shows on television or…you’ve never seen it.
- Veena Sud, the producer behind The Killing, actually is the devil
Among the sliver I experienced nothing but love for Game of Thrones, but the outrage over how The Killing ended its first season was palpable. Because I’m not personally wired to get outraged by TV shows, I don’t have a very strong opinion about how The Killing ended its season, but I do have a strong opinion about whether how The Killing ended its first season will have any dramatic impact on ratings. We’ll get to that in a moment.
I wound up enjoying Game of Thrones much more than I would’ve guessed. While I watch a lot of television there aren’t very many shows I really look forward to watching. Game of Thrones quickly became one of the few shows I eagerly awaited. Game of Thrones never stacked up on my DVR and I’d watch it the same night it aired. That was not the case for me with The Killing. By the time its controversial season finale rolled around, I already had several episodes of The Killing piled up on the DVR.
While my subjective opinions about television shows are meaningless, the more objective Nielsen ratings seemed to mirror my viewing. Game of Thrones went out on a season high with a 1.4 adults 18-49 rating, double that of The Killing which drew a 0.7 adults 18-49 rating in its first season finale (neither a series high nor a series low, but that was up two tenths of an adults 18-49 rating point from the penultimate episode). Sure, Game of Thrones wasn’t pulling True Blood style ratings (but for that matter, in its first season neither did True Blood), but especially given that HBO is available in about 70 million fewer homes than AMC, it’s pretty clear Game of Thrones was the far more popular than The Killing. But that was the case even before the outrage producing season finale of The Killing.
Will the controversy over the way The Killing ended its first season have any detrimental effect on its ratings or AMC? My bet is a resounding no, at least not when it comes to the ratings (which is all that matters for AMC). Indeed, if you subscribe to the theory that a rising tide lifts all boats -- even if the rising tide is made of zombies -- then series high ratings are not out of the question for The Killing tonight. I won’t be surprised if The Killing sees series highs tonight and I would be surprised if it sees series lows.
As for Game of Thrones my guess is time is its friend. Not so much in an absence makes the heart grow founder way, but more in the way of good word of mouth + HBO On Demand + HBO GO + 9 months to catch up = series high ratings tonight.