Inconceivable! Fox’s Empire ratings have gone up again. The hip-hop drama’s third episode climbed to 10.9 million viewers and a big 4.3 rating among adults 18-49. That’s up 8 percent after the show already shocked the industry by climbing in week two from its strong premiere. This just doesn’t … hardly … ever … happen.
There were mitigating factors which almost certainly helped: Empire’s lead-in American Idol (11.5 million, 3.3) was up this week while Empire’s biggest rivals in the hour—ABC’s Modern Family and Black-ish—were both in repeats last night. But still: The typical pattern is a show’s highest-rated episode of the season is its premiere, then ratings drop for two weeks and then (hopefully) settle into a groove for the rest of the season, rising somewhat for the season finale. Empire has done the opposite. The midseason drama premiered big. Got bigger. Then got bigger again.
The last time this kind of growth happened for a new drama was three years ago, with a short-lived Fox series called The Finder. But its debut ratings were so modest that posting gains was relatively easy. Usually when shows debut really high like Empire, that kind of performance is an outlier and more likely to get pulled down—and often drop quite sharply—to a more average number in subsequent episodes. For instance: In 2004, even ABC’s hugely successful and long-running Lost debuted to a 6.8 rating, but then went to a 6.5 and then a 6.2. Fox was so impressed with last week’s performance of Empire executives gave the show an ultra-early season-two renewal.
Last week some readers were annoyed when I pointed out that it’s probably not wise to call any show a hit after a mere two weeks. But after this, how can you not?
Two weeks from now will be another big test: Modern Family and Black-ish will be back to originals. Can Empire hold onto its new series high? One assumes it would drop. But who wants to bet against it?