Just about everyone you see is a member of the walking dead

Apr 27 2013 - 10:55pm

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If it seems like zombies have been taking over America, you're not imagining things. They are.

And, no, I'm not making some snarky comment about politicians and their walking-dead ways. That joke's too easy, people. I'm referring to zombies in pop media -- books, movies, television, the Interwebs.

You can't swing a severed arm in a bookstore without knocking over a pile of zombie-series novels. And the zombification of movies at the multiplex and in DVD kiosks has been unrelenting ever since George Romero struck gold with "Night of the Living Dead."

Now the zombie apocalypse has even managed to wave its shadow across network television. The New York Times recently reported that last fall's half-season run of the AMC series "The Walking Dead" beat "every network show in the ratings demographic that advertisers care most about" -- viewers aged 18-49.

You say you're younger than 18 or older than 49? You don't matter to the gods of Madison Avenue, so quit cluttering up the planet. Zombies, indeed.

The Times said "The Walking Dead" outdid such titans of broadcast TV as "American Idol," "The Big Bang Theory," "Modern Family" and "The Voice." It's the first time a cable/satellite show has managed this feat, and marks another low-tide result for over-the-air shows whose content is subject to regulation by the FCC.

At the risk of repeating myself, that's an important fact to understand: On AMC and the other cable channels, writers, producers and directors can use all the bad language, show all the skin and, in the case of "The Walking Dead," smoosh all the zombie heads they want. But on the broadcast channels -- ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox , etc. -- that goo won't do.

The audience for "The Walking Dead" has increased 51 percent over the past year. That kind of thing just doesn't happen in the world of televised entertainment.

No matter how many Emmys the likes of "Mad Men" or "The Sopranos" or "Breaking Bad" win, they've never matched, let alone surpassed, the ratings -- actual eyeballs gazing at the tube -- of broadcast television. This is a seismic event in the TV ratings game.

Here's the thing: People just don't watch television the way they used to, sitting on the couch at home. If they do watch at home, it's on their own schedule via DVR or some Internet-streaming service. And that younger demographic is increasingly watching these series on smartphones and tablets.

I do this myself. I commute to and from work on the FrontRunner train each weekday, and when the Utah Transit Authority's wireless system is working -- seriously? only about half the time -- I catch up on my Netflix viewing or hop over to broadcast or cable station websites to watch what I missed at home.

And I'm not the only one. You know how you can walk down a busy city street and never see anyone's eyes because they're all stooped over looking at their phones, typing texts and checking emails? It's like that on the train. The only people whose faces aren't perpendicular to the mobile devices in their laps are those who are asleep ... or the creepy people who stare at other passengers.

Hey, wait a minute. This is starting to make sense. People stumbling around the streets, obsessively texting, emailing, tweeting and surfing the Web? On trains, blankly staring into the screens of phones, tablets and laptops?

Except for the rotting-flesh and outsized violence, there's getting to be less and less difference between Life As We Now Know It and "The Walking Dead." The zombie apocalypse isn't coming -- it's already here.

Email Don Porter at dportercolumn@hotmail.com.

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