AMC remains silent on whether or not it will renew “Halt and Catch Fire,” leaving fans and critics alike to scrutinize the computer drama’s ratings in speculation of the network’s decision. The season finale on August 3, 2014 drew only 574,000 viewers on its air night, which is a sharp drop off from the already relative modest 1.2 million the show garnered with the series premiere in June 2014. Many see these numbers as the ultimate warning sign in forecasting the show’s cancellation.
However, hopes for “Halt and Catch Fire's” renewal have been buoyed lately by an unusually late increase in critical acclaim following the series’ stronger late episodes and a passionate cult fan base. The creators of the show hope “Halt” will earn the same patience from AMC that other hit shows on the network (“Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men”) have historically received. But is “Halt and Catch Fire” worthy of that kind of patience? How do the low ratings of the show stack up against AMC’s slate since it began original programming in 2007 with "Mad Men"?
“Mad Men” began AMC’s move to original scripted content and it got off to a decent start. In July 2007 the “Mad Men” Season 1 premiere was viewed by 1.2 million people, according to Reuters, and there was minimal fall off throughout the season, averaging 900,000 viewers per episode. However, this is a risky comparison to make as “Mad Men” premiered to a much less distracted and fragmented audience with much less expectation, still largely missing the Netflix and basic cable drama explosion.
“Breaking Bad” might be the ultimate model for AMC’s patience. Viewership for the show famously spiked in the later seasons as the rising popularity of Netflix allowed a bigger audience to catch up as word of mouth spread. The series finale in September 2013 brought in 10.3 million viewers after the final season premiered at 5.9 million viewers. The fourth season finale in 2011 drew only 1.9 million! However, even the 2008 first season finale of “Breaking Bad” had 1.5 million viewers, dwarfing the ratings for “Halt and Catch Fire.”
How about “Turn?” The revolutionary-era drama ran on AMC concurrently with “Halt” and was recently renewed for a second season. It turns out “Halt” is far behind yet again, with 1.6 million people tuning in for the “Turn” season finale on June8, 2014. “Hell on Wheels,” also still running on AMC right now, brought in 2.8 million viewers for its own Season 1 finale in January 2012 after premiering at 4.4 million.
So, what is the most comparable show AMC has had to “Halt and Catch Fire?” Unfortunately, for the tech-centered series, it may be the ill-fated "Low Winter Sun." The series had only one season in 2013, which faced dismal rating, only clearing 600,000 viewers after debuting at 2.5 million.
So, is “Halt and Catch Fire” doomed to meet the same fate as “Low Winter Sun?” Perhaps not. While the “Halt” finale drew in even less viewers than the cancelled “Low Winter Sun,” it experienced much less of a dramatic drop off, leaving open the argument that the show’s lack of audience might be more the result of poor summer timing than a lack of quality or viewer interest (especially as more and more critic heap praise on “Halt”). “Low Winter Sun” after all experienced its own low ratings following the supremely popular final episodes of “Breaking Bad,” giving the show no real claim to pass the blame.
However, it will be difficult to overcome the raw numbers and “Halt and Catch Fire” is assuredly facing an uphill battle as AMC nears its decision. Until then, fans will have to wait and see if AMC has a little more patience left in them.
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