The History channel wrapped up a string of ratings successes Wednesday night as the third part of the miniseries Hatfields & McCoys reached a new audience high of 14.3 million viewers, vaulting the series into three of the top positions for entertainment programs on cable television.
The show, which stars Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton in a depiction of the 19th-century feud between families in Kentucky and West Virginia, eclipsed all previous entertainment shows on cable except the one-night movie High School Musical 2.
The three nights of the show reached, in sequence, audiences of 13.9 million, 13.1 million and 14.3 million. These viewer totals were all based on live viewing and playback of the show on the same day it was recorded via DVR. Presumably, the number will grow significantly when longer-term playback is counted.
But the daily figures underscore what a huge following the show built. Publisher's Weekly noted that the miniseries had sent books about the feud rising on Amazon.com's best-seller list, including Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys — The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance by Lisa Alther, which was No. 15 on Amazon's list on Thursday afternoon.
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In recent months, the only cable show with anywhere close to such a large audience was the finale of The Walking Dead on AMC in March, which reached nine million viewers. That show also has a Kentucky connection: Cynthiana native Robert Kirkman created the comics the drama is based on and is an executive producer of it.
Though Hatfields had the profile of many historical and Western-style dramas in being heavily viewed by an older audience, its totals among the audiences preferred by advertisers were also impressive for any television show, especially one on cable. Part 3 attracted 5.1 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, and 6.3 million between the ages of 25 and 54, which is the category the History channel sells to advertisers.