NEW YORK (AP) — With a standard-setting finale to its first season reaching 17.6 million viewers, Fox's music business drama "Empire" has proven that it's still possible for broadcast television to create big hits.
That's how many people watched the second of two one-hour episodes on Wednesday night. The first hour was seen by 15.8 million people, the Nielsen company said.
When "Empire" debuted in January, its first-night audience was a healthy but not remarkable 9.9 million. It proceeded to gain viewers for every single succeeding episode through the 12th and final one Wednesday night, a feat Nielsen said is unmatched in two dozen years of estimating viewership through electronic people meters.
On the final episode, music family patriarch Lucious Lyon, played by actor Terrence Howard, learns that he doesn't actually have ALS as he had thought. He also anoints middle son Jamal as the heir to the family business, angering his other sons Andre and Hakeem in the process.
Not since "Grey's Anatomy" in 2005 has a television drama reached so many people for the last episode of its premiere season, Nielsen said.
The viewership estimate doesn't take into account the number of people who will see the show via Internet streams, video on demand and on DVR in the coming days and weeks. Based on viewership gains seen by past "Empire" episodes, Fox estimates that in a month's time more than 27 million people will have watched Wednesday's last episode.
Facebook said some 4.2 million people accounted for 15.8 million posts, shares and comments on the finale.
The "Empire" success puts the rookie show among CBS' "NCIS" and AMC's "The Walking Dead" in drama popularity this season. It's a boon for Fox, which has seen former juggernaut "American Idol" continue to recede in popularity and few other shows connecting with viewers. It's heartening for television programmers in general to see a program become a hit at a time most new programs fail.
"Empire" will be back for a second season, although Fox hasn't said whether it will be in the fall or winter.