AMC's 'Walking Dead' strides ahead of 'Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear'

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

About 2 million people watched Saturday's live telecast of the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on Comedy Central.

About 5 million watched the debut of a zombie show the next night on AMC.

"It's a good day to be dead," AMC President Charlie Collier gloated Monday.

No word from Comedy Central on whether it was a good day to be a citizen of voting age.

Also no word yet from creators of AMC's other series, "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," on how they feel about eating the dust of "The Walking Dead." Its numbers are for its initial Sunday night telecast only.

The "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" ratings are for its initial, live telecast on Comedy Central only. The 2 million also does not include those who watched it live on C-SPAN, which is not rated by Nielsen.

It was no zombie fest -- or San Diego Comic-Con, where zombie aficionados got their first peek at "The Walking Dead" in July. But the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" -- which included performances by John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock and Yusuf Islam (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, doing "Peace Train"), which should have been the highlight of the rally but which Stephen Colbert stupidly stomped on when he interrupted the poignant performance to make yet another of his tired look-at-me-I'm-a-rabid-fearmonger gags -- was a ratings success of sorts. It attracted nearly 400 percent more viewers than the network has recently averaged on Saturdays in the middle of the day (and in the late morning on the West Coast).

In the interest of full disclosure, we feel obligated to note that the percentage of the country's population on the East Coast using their TVs at noon on Saturdays -- and on the West Coast, using their TVs at 9 a.m. -- is very small compared with the percentage of the population that uses their TVs in prime time. So zombies did have an advantage over the comics and their entourage.

Still, there is no getting around the fact that the premiere of "The Walking Dead" bagged the biggest audience ever for any original series on AMC.

We like to think of "The Walking Dead" as an allegory for the Comcast-NBC merger, as has been suggested by at least one former NBC exec. But AMC's Collier insisted Monday that "The Walking Dead" is that rare piece of programming that works on so many levels.

"It is legitimately great storytelling," he said -- one of those protesteth-too-much canned lines -- while also calling it "not only highly entertaining, but incredibly thought-provoking as well."

Comedy Central, meanwhile, noted late Monday afternoon that the 570,000 live video streams of its rally make it "one of the biggest live streaming events ever for MTV Networks." (Comedy Central is one of the MTV Networks.)

The network also says that event organizers "feel confident that over 250,000 people attended the rally." And, the network added, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority says it set a new record for highest Saturday Metrorail ridership for the day of the rally, breaking a 19-year-old record.

Of course, the rally was not the only thing going on in Washington. It was the weekend of Howard University's homecoming, for instance, and people were in town for Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company