Though TV series, like their film counterparts, typically live and die by how they fare on opening night, more and more shows -- especially on cable -- are premiering with modest numbers but then accruing a sizable audience over time.
A&E's "Duck Dynasty" and AMC's "Breaking Bad" are two such examples, last week multiplying to numbers that would have seemed impossible when they launched.
Netflix certainly play a role in offering new audiences a chance to discover a show months or even years after their premiere, and Twitter and Facebook can help feed this passion, too. Sure enough, both "Duck" and "Bad" lit up social media on the night they returned to kick off their new seasons.
"Duck," which premiered to 1.8 million viewers in March 2012, kicked off its fourth season last week before a whopping crowd of 11.8 million -- the largest audience ever for an unscripted cable series.
It was the No. 1 program on all of television for the week, especially in the 18-49 demo, where its 5.0 rating/15 share more than doubled any other primetime show.
In growing from its humble beginnings, "Duck Dynasty" has found 10 million new viewers. Its second-season premiere in October of last year drew 3.94 million and its audience then more than doubled when it opened season three in February of this year (8.62 million).
The third season of "Duck Dynasty" averaged 8.4 million total viewers, up 95% compared to season two.
At AMC, "Breaking Bad" averaged 4.77 million viewers Sunday for its second episode of the season -- about 2 million more than it was drawing this time a year ago. In adults 18-49, its 2.4 national rating tied last week with the summer's top new program, CBS' "Under the Dome."
The show, which has always been a critical darling, bowed in January 2008 with a lowly 1.41 million viewers but built with each season. It drew nearly 2 million with its third-season premiere in March 2010, and then 2.58 million for its fourth-season opener in July 2011.
"Breaking Bad" is wrapping its run in late September, when more ratings records figure to be set.
Though not as impressive as these swells over time, some first-year cable series have also seen their audience grow this summer since their premieres, including serialized "Devious Maids" on Lifetime and "The Haves and the Have Nots" on OWN.
"Maids" has seen noticeable improvement in the second half of its season, hitting 2.56 million viewers last week after struggling to stay above 2 million in its opening weeks.
And the OWN series hit highs for a third straight week last Tuesday (2.14 million) after dipping down to about 1.3 million in its third and fourth weeks. The 2.14 million is about four times the network's overall primetime weekly average.
Overall for the week of Aug. 12-18, Fox used a pair of NFL preseason games to win the week with a 1.3 rating/4 share, followed by Univision (1.2/4), CBS (1.1/4), NBC (1.1/3) and ABC (1.0/3). Fox and CBS tied for the lead in adults 25-54 (1.5/4) while CBS led in total viewers (4.1 million).
The top series in 18-49 was a three-way tie, "Breaking Bad," CBS' "Under the Dome" and NBC's "America's Got Talent" each pulling a 2.4 rating/7 share.
Fox was led by "MasterChef" (2.2/7 in 18-49, 5.49 million viewers overall) and NFL preseason action on Sunday (2.1/7 in 18-49, 6.47m) and Friday (1.5/6 in 18-49, 4.66m).
At CBS, "Under the Dome" hit a low but continues to perform well relative to all other scripted program on ad-supported television this summer. Net's "Big Brother" had a down week, with Sunday (2.1/6 in 18-49, 6.48m) off 13% from the previous week.
NBC is doing pretty well on Mondays with its unscripted combo of "American Ninja Warrior" (1.6/5 in 18-49, 5.10 million viewers overall) and "Get Out Alive With Bear Grylls" (1.4/4 in 18-49, 3.71m), while Thursday's "Hollywood Game Night" (1.2/4 in 18-49, 3.41m) has fared well enough to suggest it will be returning at some point.
Not likely to return to the Peacock are scripted series "Siberia" (0.7/2 in 18-49, 1.76 million viewers overall) and "Crossing Lines," the latter of which wrapped with a two-hour episode on Sunday (0.4/1 in 18-49, 2.06m).