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In the end, ‘Succession’ drew buzz, but not as many viewers as you might think

Alexander Skarsgård (second from right) and Kieran Culkin (right) in Sunday's series finale of HBO's "Succession."David M. Russell/HBO

One of the landmarks of HBO’s “Succession” has been the massive amount of analysis of it — the number of words spent by writers and general viewers on the characters, their psychologies, and their chances of taking over Logan Roy’s empire. In a way, the show is written to lend itself to scrutiny, dissection, and prediction. If you’ve been looking at the news in the past week or two, as the series finale arrived, you’ve very likely come across some kind of “Succession” content.

But, ratings-wise, it’s less of a monster show than you might expect, given the chatter. It’s still big, and it did quite well for HBO. The finale on Sunday night saw “Succession” break its own record, drawing a series high of 2.9 million viewers on Max and the linear HBO that night. By comparison, the season 3 finale had 1.7 million viewers and the season 2 finale had 1.1 on their respective opening nights.


And the finale’s 2.9 million is growing as we speak, as viewers take in the finale on DVRs, streaming, and reruns. The season as a whole has been averaging 8.7 million viewers per episode, so, when all is said and done, the “Succession” series finale will most likely have drawn a total closer to 9 million.

But for a buzz show generating miles of commentary, it’s not in the same blockbuster league as a few other major-league HBO series. The first-season finale of “The Last of Us,” for instance, drew 8.2 million viewers on opening night earlier this year (compared to the 2.9 of “Succession”) and its season average per episode was some 30.4 million (compared to the 8.7 of “Succession”). And the “Game of Thrones” series finale in 2019 had 19.3 million viewers for its opening night, and it averaged 44.2 million viewers per episode during its final season.


For even more perspective, the “Friends” series finale drew 52.5 million for its first viewing in May 2004, the 1993 “Cheers” series finale drew 80.4 million, and “M*A*S*H” is at the top of the heap, its series finale drawing an astounding — and, most likely, unbeatable — 105 million in 1983.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at Follow him @MatthewGilbert.