Season 7 of “Sons of Anarchy” premiered on Tuesday, Sept. 9, and Jax and SAMCRO pulled off maybe their biggest coup yet. The season premiere of the FX drama about an outlaw motorcycle gang, now in its final season after a six-year run, saw the show’s biggest ratings yet, with 6.2 million viewers. With the increasingly fragmented audience in television, that's a pretty remarkable feat for a basic-cable drama.
Going out on top is rare -- even some of the all-time-great series didn't. “True Blood,” for instance, which recently ended on HBO (also with its seventh season) was certainly successful to the end, finished well short of it Season 3 peak viewership, with its June final season premiere drawing 5.8 million viewers. “Lost,” one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the last decade, had begun to wear on fans by the end, falling from its peak Season 3 average of 15.9 million in 2007 to just over 10 million by the final season in 2010. “Mad Men,” maybe the most critically acclaimed show of the past few years with four Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series, has been slipping in the ratings as of late and does not seem primed for a peak in the middle of its seventh and final season. Even the mighty “The Sopranos” had a lower season average in its final (sixth) season, averaging 8.23 million, than in its Season 4 peak of 10.99 million in 2002.
“Sons of Anarchy” might just escape that falloff. The 6.2 million viewers who tuned in for the Season 7 premiere is a 19 percent bump up from the Season 6 finale. It’s also an increase from the 5.87 million who watched the Season 6 premiere. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about “Sons of Anarchy” is that its viewership has increased every single season. After a premiere-season average of 2.2 million in 2008, the show was hitting 3.23 million by Season 3 in 2010 and 4.6 million in last year’s Season 6.
“Sons of Anarchy” seems primed to pull a “Breaking Bad,” leaving off in its final season with its biggest numbers ever (though admittedly smaller numbers than the colossally popular crime drama). Though “Sons of Anarchy” has had critical acclaim, it has not received the mainstream buzz that “Breaking Bad” did. Even before the show became so popular, lead Bryan Cranston was in the middle of winning three consecutive Emmys for “Breaking Bad.” Katy Sagal, whose performance on “Sons of Anarchy” is the subject of the most acclaim on the show, has not even been nominated (though she did win a Golden Globe in 2011). Nor has “Sons of Anarchy” ever been nominated for Outstanding Drama Series. No, credit one of the most loyal fan bases in television for the success of “Sons of Anarchy,” who tune in in droves for FX’s fan show, “Anarchy Afterword,” and support one of the most expansive merchandise campaigns of any television show.
If “Sons of Anarchy” pulls off a little television history in its final season, it won't be because of mainstream buzz but rather word of mouth and a loyal fan base. For a show that centers on an exclusive gang of brothers, there’s probably some poetic justice to that.
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