Though The Walking Dead remains the top-rated show on cable, its recent ratings slide has been a conversation loud enough to reach its leading man.
The Sunday night numbers make The Walking Dead, by far, the top rated show on cable. It's an unprecedented six-year run. In fact, The Walking Dead's recap show finishes second on Sunday nights, with a considerable lead over third place. Following the top-rated Season 7 premiere on October 23, 2016 and its 17 million viewers, the AMC series has slid to a more modest, but still impressive 8 million viewers on a weekly basis.
For Lincoln, The Walking Dead's Rick Grimes and leader of the zombie apocalypse, the lesson in ratings begins 23 years ago. The actor opened up about the topic in an exclusive interview with ComicBook.com.
"It's a funny thing," Lincoln said. "I did a Q&A just two nights ago and we were talking about a TV show called This Life. It was a TV show on the BBC."
On This Life, Lincoln played Edgar "Egg" Cook, as the series followed the character and four other young professionals. "It was produced by a guy called Tony Garnett," Lincoln adds, calling Garnett a "very, very brilliant producer." Garnett has 38 producer credits to his name, with the earliest coming in 1968.
"This is a time when, we shot the first [season], and we didn't advertise it," Lincoln recalls of This Life. "There was barely any advertising for this show and we wanted it to be almost like a documentary but people would talk about our own generation. They would talk about in pubs, going, 'This show, I don't know if it's a documentary or a drama.' It's just lots of people just talking but it's quite good. Critically, we got slammed, the first season. No one watched it."
Still, the producer had faith in the series. "[Garnett] went to the head, the commissioner for BBC, and said, 'I promise you, you recommission this show, and it will take off in its second season.'"
Garnett was a man of his word. "Sure enough, we shot 25 episodes, and it became, they talk about, a zeitgeist show in the 90's," Lincoln said. "That's largely down to him, and Jane Fallon, and the directors and the writers, beating the drum and having faith in it."
"This was a time when we weren't driven by ratings," Lincoln adds. He's right, too. Most shows are lucky to get through a first season and into a second these days, even with some critical love and decent ratings.
"It's extraordinary now," Lincoln said. "You can't avoid ratings. It's kind of impossible. I remember when we shot that show and everybody hated it." Then comes This Life Season 2 and everyone "claimed to have discovered the show," Lincoln recalls. "That was the astonishing thing. The turn around was phenomenal. So, it was at that point, when I just said, 'Oh, it's all a game! It's all a game.'"
Although conversations and decisions are dominated by ratings in today's culture, Lincoln applies his approach to This Life from the 90's to his work ethic on The Walking Dead. "I just want to tell the best story we possibly can and it's very difficult when there's so many moving parts apart from me that control that destiny," Lincoln said. "That's why I don't watch it. That's why I don't get involved in the social media. Of course, I hear it. Of course, friends tell me and producers tell me..."
"What I care about is just, the first season when we didn't know, we were just doing it for ourselves," the actor goes on. "We were doing it for anybody who watched it! Why would I change that attitude now? You know what I mean? You do it for the people you work amongst and your own satisfaction. The fact is, Brandon, if I wanted it to be a ratings juggernaut, I'm gonna be disappointed. I'm gonna be so angry at the end of every day's work. This is a unique experience."
The bottom line: Lincoln cares about "affecting people and making people shocked and cry and weak for us and feel things. I don't think anybody's dropped the ball in that department in the years that I've been working on it."