The History network's first installment of the miniseries "The Bible" was seen by 13.1 million people Sunday. The series, produced by the husband-and-wife team of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, will air in four more installments concluding March 31, Easter Sunday.
Meanwhile, both episodes of "American Idol" last week had their smallest audiences since joining Fox's regular schedule more than a decade ago, the Nielsen company said.
"The Bible" appears to be a hit along the lines of History's "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries last spring. The first episode aired twice Sunday, for a total audience of 14.8 million people. Mostly due to curiosity about the series, History's website had its most visited day ever on Sunday, said Nancy Dubuc, president of entertainment and media for the A&E networks.
"Clearly, the passion for this project has resonated with our viewers and across the nation," Dubuc said. "We are thrilled, and the story is only just beginning."
Another cable favorite, "The Walking Dead" on AMC, reached 11.3 million people Sunday. Both shows had larger audiences than anything on broadcast television, and appeared to contribute to some lousy numbers for the big networks.
ABC heavily promoted the two-hour debut of the drama "Red Widow," but only 7.1 million people sampled it. The 7.4 million viewers for ABC's "Once Upon a Time" on Sunday was nearly four million lower than its season average. Donald Trump returned to the airwaves Sunday and no one noticed: the debut of a new season of "The Apprentice" had 5.2 million viewers.
The A&E Network favorite, "Duck Dynasty," appears to be exploding in popularity, with two episodes exceeding 8.5 million viewers on Wednesday.
By the standards of most programs, the 13.3 million and 12.6 million people who tuned in to "American Idol" last week would be more than satisfying. But they were a measure of the show's continued erosion, something fresh judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban haven't been able to stop.
Fox notes that the period between auditions and when fans begin voting for contestants traditionally represents a lull for the show.