Absence May Make 'Mad Men' Viewers Grow Fonder

TV series have often leveraged extended hiatuses into ratings increases

On March 25—after 525 excruciating days of waiting—fans
of Mad Men will finally be treated to the premiere of the
drama’s fifth season. And if their own ad campaign worked,
AMC executives will themselves
be treated to some good news
when the ratings come out.

Series hiatuses are commonplace
in the TV world, caused by
anything from production delays
to writers’ strikes to low ratings
to a creator’s whims (in the case
of The Sopranos). But historically,
many series that have gone on
extended hiatuses—for reasons
other than waning viewership—
have benefited from the break in
the form of increased ratings for
their long-anticipated returns.

0319 Programming Long Goodbye Chart

Judging such a bounce is of
course not an exact science—
there are many factors that can
affect a series’ viewership after a
long break, including premiering
in a different month or time period (Breaking Bad, 30 Rock) or in
some cases, entering a final season (Lost). Mad Men will have a March
premiere instead of its customary July date, but AMC execs are expecting
the show’s cult-like following to return despite the change of season.

“I honestly think the Mad Men audience is among the most devoted
audiences in television,” Joel Stillerman, AMC executive VP of original
programming, production and digital content, said at a Hollywood
Radio & Television Society event this month. “While it’s never easy to
make scheduling decisions that keep a show off the air longer than perhaps
you’d like, I think it’s going to benefit the show in the long run.”

In the seven recent series studied for this story, six came back from
longer than normal breaks between seasons to a larger premiere audience.
Though that is not to say that a bump in premiere ratings cannot
drop off later in the season, as viewers who initially returned choose
not to tune in week after week.

Mad Men’s 17-month hiatus
was a side effect of AMC’s decision
to move the ascendant
Breaking Bad to the summer,
a shift that helped that series’
viewership grow 63% from its
season three finale to its season
four premiere, including a gain
of 48% in the key adults 18-49
demographic, after it was off the
air for more than a year.

Also working in Mad Men’s
favor is the multiyear licensing
deal its studio, Lionsgate, inked
with Netflix to stream the first
four seasons of the series starting
last July, allowing new viewers to
catch up on past seasons or ardent
fans to re-watch in anticipation.
(Past seasons of Breaking
were not available on Netflix until two months after its return.)

“[Mad Men] may be helped by Netflix picking it up and people having
the ability to spend a whole day watching a season on demand,”
said Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media.

When we left Don Draper and company, he had just made a surprise
proposal to his secretary in a finale episode that drew 2.4 million
total viewers—Mad Men’s mark to match this Sunday. As Draper said
in a 2007 episode, nostalgia is “delicate, but potent”—and nostalgic
fans could prove to be just that for the series’ premiere ratings.

E-mail comments to amorabito@nbmedia.com
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