We’re now well into the third season of AMC’s zombie blockbuster, The Walking Dead, and boy, what a season it’s been so far! Each episode has felt like a season finale and we’ve already had plenty of shockers along the way. All of which adds up to one seriously terrific show.

But the influence of The Walking Dead goes deeper than just an entertaining TV series. The AMC series is actually changing TV is some pretty interesting ways.

Here’s 3 examples:

Cable TV Is Bigger Than Broadcast: When Season 3 of the Walking Dead launched in mid-October the show pulled in 10.87 million viewers – the highest rating ever for a cable series – and enough to put the show firmly in the Broadcast Top 20. That said The Walking Dead is still beaten by shows like NCIS, NCIS: LA, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family and The Voice in total viewers.

Okay – but then look at the demo number. All advertisers care about is adults 18-49. It’s how ad rates are gauged and it’s how networks make money. These demos are far more important that total viewers which frankly don’t really matter all that much. Having millions of people 50+ watching your show isn’t a huge help to networks, since they watch so much TV anyway and are thus easy to advertise too.

And here’s where it gets interesting. In the key 18-49 demo The Walking Dead premiere scored HUGE. 7.4 million of those 10.87 million viewers were aged 18-49 – equaling a demo rating of 5.8. That’s bigger than every show listed above. In fact there’s only one show on TV of the last few years that scores above a 5.8 – a certain Fox juggernaut called American Idol!

Yep, The Walking Dead is second only to Idol. And it airs on the teeny tiny AMC! Is there any clearer sign that cable is the future of TV? Plus The Walking Dead obliterates the theory that numerous cable channels will split audiences into insignificant fragments. If you build a great show… people will find it…

You Can Kill Key Cast Members – And Survive: Has there ever been a show more perilous to its cast then The Walking Dead?

Seriously, with the exception of male lead Rick Grimes, I don’t know that anyone’s safe in the bleak Walking Dead landscape. We’ve watched as Dale had his guts ripped out, Shane was shot in the head, pre-teen Sophia went missing and ended up as a ‘walker’, T-Dog was eaten alive – and perhaps most memorable of all, Lori recently endured a painful and fatal C-section without anesthesia!

And still the Walking Dead keeps on going, barely missing a beat. In part that’s because the show has been able to add new and memorable characters along the way. Maggie and Hershel feel fully part of the gang now, and Michonne and The Governer are making a big impact this year.

On the broadcast networks the death of a major character is a rare event that’s often heavily trailed weeks in advance, thus undercutting the surprise. Certainly I don’t see any network shows that kill off as many key cast members as The Walking Dead (the closest case would probably be Lost). All of which adds up to a wonderfully unpredictable show that keeps viewers – and cast members – on their toes!

Lori Grimes-death scene

Audiences Love Blood And Guts: Has there ever been a show as reliably gory as The Walking Dead. Week after week we get zombies in all their decayed glory chomping on human flesh. Remember when the human survivors had to drape themselves with zombie guts in order to walk among the dead? And when that bloated zombie trapped in a well suddenly exploded…

For years horror couldn’t work on TV because it had to be sanitized and made PG friendly. The result – lame series like Freddy’s Nightmares and Friday 13th. But along with the bloody True Blood and the disturbing American Horror Story, The Walking Dead is proving that R rated horror can pull in big audiences on the small screen. Meanwhile the networks still don’t seem to have gotten the message – check out the pitiful ratings for 666 Park Avenue and ABC’s 2010 True Blood rip off, The Gates.

Okay – that’s my take – but what do you think? Are you following The Walking Dead – and do you agree it’s changing TV? Fire away…