AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” shot mostly in Senoia, is drawing plenty of live viewers: a whopping 10.9 million last night for the season three debut, the most for any basic cable scripted drama telecast ever.
The 7.4 million 18-49 viewers was more than what “The Voice,” “Modern Family” or “The Big Bang Theory” typically draw. In fact, it’s drawing more among younger viewers than any other scripted TV show.
It was by far the most viewers for any “Walking Dead” episode and is up 50 percent from last year’s season 2 debut.
Even more impressively, the show was able to garner such huge numbers without Dish Network customers, which number about 14 million households. AMC and Dish have been in a months-long dispute over fees and an unrelated lawsuit.
Glen Mazzara, a producer for the show, discussed the first episode with press today.
He discussed how over the six months that elapsed since we last saw them, they had become a tight-knit zombie fighting machine. The wordless opening scene reflected this cohesion, like a military unit embedded in a foreign country.
“They really don’t care about anyone else,” Mazzara said. “Anyone else could threaten their survival.”
He also wants viewers to root for them. So when Maggie figures out how to kill the zombies in riot gear with a look of delight or when Rick smiles on the guard tower after mowing down dozens of walkers, “they have wins. It’s important for the group to have wins. So when they suffer losses, it’s that much more devastating.”
Mazzara also addressed the issue of the “lurker” zombie who bit (SPOILER ALERT) Herschel when it appeared he was truly dead. He said that has come up before in other episodes and will come up again. It’s simply the way zombies in thsi world work. These lurkers are too weak to walk around but given the whiff of human flesh, will rouse themselves for the big bite.
Future episodes this season, he said, “may not have as many zombie killings per episode. But the scope of what this cast and crew and entire production outfit can do is pretty staggering. We have this one episode in the back half of the season that’s just huge and could play as a season finale. But it’s just an episode of the week. I’m really impressed with the level of film-making this crew in Georgia can provide every week. It’s fantastic. We just write big. They get it done. Very very few times we’ve been asked to pull back because we can’t do it.”
He said the prison will hardly be a sanctuary the way Herschel’s farm seemed to be last season (to the chagrin of some critics). “It will not be an issue at all,” he promises.
One reporter asked whether we’ll learn more about the science behind going zombie. He said no. “People have very limited information,” he said. “It’s about what to do with the limited information. We have characters trying to figure out the nature of the virus. We introduce a character named Milton who will be part of the Governor’s crew who is trying to solve the walker problem. But he’s not a scientist. It’s really about people with no answers trying to make due.”
Mazzara said the time jump was necessary to get Lori closer to birth and get them past the winter. Given that the shooting schedule is during the summer, he noted, it would have been a stretch to pretend it was 30 degrees outside. He is planning no flashbacks to fill people in on the past few months.
The group, he noted, has done some cross-skill training so Carol has learned some basic medical information from Herschel. “Her first patient is going to be Herschel,” he said. “She’s in immediately over her head.”
He also said some episodes will focus almost exclusively on the prison while others will be more about Woodbury. Some episodes Michonne may not even appear. He even said Rick may not appear in all 16 episodes.