For horror fans, TV got way more interesting in the past decade, thanks in part to American Horror Story and its bizarre and unfettered narratives. For years, it has been one of cable's most dependable ratings-grabbers, but with the politically motivated American Horror Story: Cult, it appears like the shock-heavy series has finally hit a wall when it comes to the viewership. Though only one episode aired, it was the least-watched premiere since Asylum, and the lowest-rated premiere since the Murder House pilot. Are audiences actually turning their back on Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's madness?
For some hard numbers, the "Election Night" premiere of American Horror Story: Cult pulled in 3.93 million viewers, and it earned an impressive 2.0 demo rating with adults 18-49, according to TVBytheNumbers. Both of those totals easily made it the top cable program on the night of Tuesday, September 5, when there wasn't much else happening on TV. And considering all of the major network series haven't even kicked off yet, we have to wonder how American Horror Story: Cult will fare whenever it's sharing a timeslot with the new Law & Order spinoff and NCIS: New Orleans. Still, it was a standalone victory for that evening, even though it looks a tad more worrisome when compared to past seasons.
Last season's Roanoke premiere, which was watched by 5.1 million people with a 2.8 demo rating, admittedly had the advantage of having a completely secret theme and storyline, which means that many tuned in at first just to see what it was all about. But still, even with some of the details that American Horror Story: Cult released about the season, none of the actual storylines were revealed; just the theme and some characters were made public.
And if one goes back to the three seasons prior to Roanoke, one would see that American Horror Story was in its proper heyday for those years. We had the premieres for Coven, which was watched by 5.54 million people and earned a 3.0 rating; Freak Show, which saw a series-high 6.13 million people tuning in, with a 3.1 adult demo rating; and then Hotel, which earned a 3.0 demo rating with an audience of 5.81 million people. Each of those handily beat Cult's numbers, with Season 2's Asylum winning out in the demo (2.2 rating) but losing in the total audience (3.85 million viewers). And then there was that out-of-nowhere first season premiere, which was watched by 3.18 million people, with a demo rating of 1.6.
Several factors could be at play for why American Horror Story: Cult's debut didn't draw in as many viewers as past seasons have. For one, it's the first season that FX slotted it into a Tuesday night, whereas it was a midweek stalwart for the first six seasons. As well, it's not like the storyline this season is clearly meant to draw in likeminded audience members, considering everything starts off with a very Conservative vs. Liberal focus, with Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson portraying the polar opposite leads. And there are apparently a lot of people with pertinent clown phobias, so they probably aren't watching.
We'll have to wait and see if the premiere picks up some steam in delayed viewing, as well as what future episodes will do. Be sure to make everyone you in your inner cult, er, inner circle know to tune into American Horror Story: Cult on FX every Tuesday night at 10:00 p.m. ET. And to see everything else that's heading to the small screen soon, check out our fall premiere schedule.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.