NEW YORK (AP) — Zombies, basketball and Jesus Christ have been hot television properties during the past week.
The Nielsen company said that AMC's fifth season finale for "The Walking Dead" on Sunday was seen by 15.8 million viewers. That's the third biggest audience ever for the hit drama and its best for a season finale. Its largest live audience, of 17.3 million, was for the first episode of this season.
"It's tough enough in today's competitive environment to command attention, and even harder to hold on to it," said Charlie Collier, AMC president, expressing pleasure in the show's growth through five seasons.
"The Walking Dead" didn't quite match the numbers for Fox's new sensation, "Empire," which drew 17.6 million for the finale of its first season earlier in March.
But the AMC finale reached 10.4 million viewers aged 18-to-49, the key demographic for advertising sales, and "Empire" had 8.8 million in that age group, Nielsen said.
Given how television is watched, however, those numbers are like reporting the score of a baseball game during the seventh inning stretch. Both shows are expected to gain millions more viewers when people who watch through on demand services or DVRs are added in during the coming weeks.
The TBS network reached the biggest audience in its history with Saturday night's thrilling NCAA men's basketball regional final between undefeated Kentucky and upset-minded Notre Dame. The game was seen by an average of 14.8 million people, peaking at just under 20 million during the tense ending.
Another network, the National Geographic Channel, reached its biggest audience ever during the weekend. "Killing Jesus," its story on the crucifixion of Christ based on the book by Martin Dugard and Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, was seen by 3.7 million people on Sunday, Nielsen said.
CBS won the week in prime-time, averaging 8.8 million viewers. ABC had 6.1 million, NBC had 5.8 million, Fox had 3.7 million, Univision had 2.9 million, Telemundo had 1.5 million, the CW had 1.4 million and ION Television had 1.1 million.
TBS was the week's most popular cable network, averaging 4.65 million viewers in prime time. AMC had 2.17 million, USA had 1.75 million, Fox News Channel had 1.68 million and the Disney Channel had 1.49 million.
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 8.7 million viewers. ABC's "World News" was second with 8.6 million and the "CBS Evening News" had 6.7 million viewers.
For the week of March 23-29, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "NCIS," CBS, 16.23 million; "The Walking Dead," AMC, 15.78 million; NCAA Men's Basketball: Notre Dame vs. Kentucky, TBS, 14.75 million; "NCIS: New Orleans," CBS, 14.42 million; "Dancing With the Stars," ABC, 13.85 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 13.83 million; "The Voice" (Monday), NBC, 12.2 million; "The Voice" (Tuesday), NBC, 11.62 million; "Madam Secretary," CBS, 11.47 million; "NCAA Studio Show" (Saturday), TBS, 10.83 million.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.