NEW YORK (AP) — It's hard to miss the message from the season premiere of "The Walking Dead": blood pays off.
The gory episode of the popular AMC drama was seen by just over 17 million viewers on Sunday night, the Nielsen company said. That left it short of the 2014 season premiere of 17.3 million for most-watched episode of the series ever, but AMC believes that when additional digital and delayed viewing is added in, this season's opener will be the all-time champ.
When last season's opener drew 14.6 million people, there were whispers that "The Walking Dead" was fading in appeal. But a good, old-fashioned cliffhanger — who did Negan kill? — paid off handsomely in interest.
Among the 18-to-49-year-old audience that advertisers love, "The Walking Dead" reached 10.7 million people. Prior to Sunday night, the season's most-watched scripted show among that youthful demographic was the 6.5 million who saw the season premiere of "The Big Bang Theory."
Even for a zombie apocalypse program not known for its gentility, Sunday's episode stood out for blood 'n' guts. Avert your eyes, those who haven't seen it and don't want their anticipation spoiled: Negan bludgeons Abraham and Glenn with a spiked baseball bat.
Come to think of it, you might want to avert your eyes anyway.
The episode "was one of the most graphically violent shows we've seen on television, comparable to the most violent of programs found on premium cable networks," said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council.
AMC's postgame show, "Talking Dead," had its biggest-ever audience among people wanting to dissect the opener.
CBS scored another easy victory in prime time, averaging 9.9 million viewers for the week. Second place NBC, with 7.7 million viewers, won among the 18-to-49-year-old crowd. ABC averaged 5.4 million viewers, Fox had 3.1 million, Univision had 1.8 million, Telemundo had 1.6 million, the CW had 1.5 million and ION Television had 1.2 million.
Fox News Channel was the week's most popular cable network, averaging 3.21 million viewers in prime time. AMC had 2.172 million, CNN had 2.169 million, ESPN had 2.14 million and MSNBC had 1.78 million.
The evening news competition had another virtual dead heat: ABC's "World News Tonight" averaged 7.99 million viewers and the "NBC Nightly News" had 7.97 million. The "CBS Evening News" averaged 6.4 million.
For the week of Oct. 17-23, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFL Football: Seattle at Arizona, NBC, 17.71 million; "The Walking Dead," AMC, 17.03 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 15.99 million; "NCIS," CBS, 14.77 million; NFL Football: Chicago at Green Bay, CBS, 14.202 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.196 million; "Bull," CBS, 12.29 million; "Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 12.01 million; "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS, 11.4 million; "The Voice" (Monday), NBC, 11.38 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.