Dancing With the Stars isn't dead by a long shot.
But after Monday's TV-ratings performance, in which the franchise lost 4 million viewers from its previous spring opener, it doesn't feel as alive as The Walking Dead.
Here's what DWTS could learn from the Nielsen buzz show:
1. Don't Air Opposite The Voice: Last spring, DWTS didn't, and its opener scored 22.6 million viewers and a 5.3 rating among adults 18- to 49-years-old. Last night, it did, and it fell to 18.5 million viewers and a 3.5 demo rating, per the early numbers. AMC's Walking Dead season finale, meanwhile, went up against Celebrity Apprentice, and scored a series- and network-best 9 million viewers.
2. Always Be Closing and/or Killing Off Fan Favorites: Even before the finale, The Walking Dead offed Jon Bernthal's Shane, proving no one is safe, and, more to the point, no episode should be missed. DWTS plays that game, too, but the start of the season typically lacks for shocks.
3. Zombies, Obviously: You could argue that DWTS' habit of casting icons from Generation X's youth is sort of like casting zombies, but you'd be wrong—and also mean. The real, "live" flesh-chomping undead scored a whopping 4.7 demo rating; DWTS' perfectly nice group of retro stars scored a 3.5. You do the math as to which group's more popular.
4. Be Young Again: The Walking Dead is only two seasons old. DWTS is on its 14th edition—it's amassed a lot of numbers for numbers-crunchers to crunch, and show why it's not as popular as it used to be.
5. Air on Basic Cable: Even though it maybe shouldn't, it still impresses when a show like The Walking Dead beats the pants off its free-TV competition. As for DWTS, it's just a big ol' target. Look how long it's taken us to mention that despite everything, including the demo-dominating The Voice, it was Monday's most-watched show.
A quick look at other TV ratings winners—and losers—per the latest rankings:
• Fashion Star (4.6 million viewers; 1.6 demo rating): To restate that last Walking Dead lesson, if Fashion Star was on basic cable, and it was called Project Runway, then its debut would've been great. But it's not, and it wasn't.
• New Girl (5.7 million viewers, 2.8 demo rating): It's kinda missing its Glee lead-in.
• Wednesday's American Idol (18.4 million viewers, 5.4 demo rating): The Jermaine Jones dismissal provided no boost. Even without it, it was TV's No. 1 show.
• Desperate Housewives (9 million viewers, 2.6 demo rating): On Sunday night, it got killed by The Walking Dead in the 18-to-49 race, but hit a four-month high in viewers.
• The Bachelor (9.2 million viewers, 2.9 demo rating): Even franchise-low ratings count. The season finale ended up in the Top 20 in total viewers, and in the Top 10 among young adults.
• Two and a Half Men (11.3 estimated million viewers, 3.8 demo rating): One of the shows conspicuously not picked up last week by CBS, the veteran comedy proved last night it's still the network's best bet on Monday opposite big-time draws such as The Voice and DWTS.
Here's a complete look at the TV week's top 10 most-watched broadcast shows: