“Halt and Catch Fire” will get a fourth and final season on AMC to wrap up its story. The channel made the announcement late Monday, a day before the show’s Season 3 finale.
That it got even half that far is an idea that would probably have been unthinkable even a few years ago.
That’s not to argue the quality of the show about the fledgling world of personal computing and online communities in the 1980s. It’s been a consistent critical favorite for most of its three years on the air. But the plain truth is that next to no one has watched it, at least not in the traditionally measured ways of TV viewing.
In 2014, the show’s first season earned a 0.3 rating in adults 18-49 (live + same-day) and 760,000 viewers. Earlier that year, “Mad Men” — which put AMC on the map as a place for original series but never had huge ratings — averaged a 0.7 and 2 million viewers. AMC’s decision to renew “Halt and Catch Fire” was considered a mild surprise at the time.
That was right at the beginning, however, of the current Peak TV era. When “Halt” premiered, Netflix had five original series, including the acquired “Lillyhammer” and the revival of “Arrested Development,” aimed at adults. Amazon had just three; its signature show “Transparent” was nearly four months from its debut.
As original shows have continued to proliferate, cable channels have tolerated lower viewing numbers than anyone would have conceived of just four or five years earlier. Consider “Terriers,” which FX reluctantly canceled after one season in 2010. Its average audience was 880,000, more than “Halt” has ever reached.
“Halt and Catch Fire’s” numbers have only gone down in subsequent years: Season 2 averaged a 0.2 and 520,000 viewers, and the current season draws just a 0.1 and 337,000 viewers per episode. Three days of delayed viewing only moves the show up to a 0.2 and about 600,000 viewers.
But AMC also has a massive hit in “The Walking Dead,” which draws big ratings and, presumably, has helped the channel command higher subscriber fees from cable providers. That in turn allows a long ratings leash for a “true passion project,” as AMC describes “Halt and Catch Fire.”
If you added up the 18-49 rating for all 28 episodes of “Halt and Catch Fire” that have aired so far, you’d get a 5.1. No single episode of “The Walking Dead” has had an 18-49 rating that low since the first half of Season 3.
In Peak TV, one big hit can buy you a whole lot of passion projects. The final season of “Halt and Catch Fire” will air sometime in 2017. It joins these shows that are having their final runs in 2016-17.