Nielsen says final episode of ‘Afghanistan’ drew biggest ratings in 12 seasons

Pure ratings gold.

By Grumpy

HOLLYWOOD — Fans of “Afghanistan,” the longest-running military drama in U.S. history, tuned in for the show's finale in numbers not seen in more than a decade, according to ratings company Nielsen.

“We are very grateful to our loyal fans who stayed with us all the way through,” producers said in a statement. “And we also appreciate the fair-weather fans who returned to complain about the long-awaited end.”

Nielsen says the ratings were the highest since 2009’s two-part episode in which a U.S. soldier walked off his forward operating base and the entire U.S. Army mobilized to try and find him.

The show originally began as a primetime miniseries, “Northern Alliance,” which debuted in the fall of 2001. The series was an unqualified hit, and producers turned it into a full production that December, after Northern Alliance’s climax, “Loya Jirga,” shattered records for military-themed programming.

“We just completely blew away ‘Gulf War’ numbers,” sources told the TV trades at the time.

Afghanistan’s” strong start faltered some when a spinoff, “Shock and Awe,” began to air. The convoluted writing—at one point, the show tried to convince viewers that the real villains of “Northern Alliance” were in Iraq—quickly soured large parts of the audiences of both shows. No matter how hard then-executive-producer Paul Wolfowitz tried, audiences never bought the connection between the two storylines.

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Over time, each series tried all the usual tricks—crossover appearances, surges of guest stars, sex scandals involving major characters—but audiences remained decidedly ambivalent.

Even the shows’ loyal “Teefies”—derived from “Thank you for your service,” which fans abbreviated into TYFYS with their distinctive sun-faded yellow magnetic ribbons on the backs of pickup trucks—gradually lost interest. What once was a frequent occurrence accompanied by a purchased beer, coffee, or in-flight upgrade eventually became a dolorous, half-hearted greeting without even eye contact.

Sources say that not even the 2011 episode in which principal villain Osama bin Laden was killed off did very well. “He'd been gone for like eight years, and it was obviously just a ratings pander,” Variety’s Media reporter Rebecca Ruben said. “Plus, it was clear the writers could never decide if we were supposed to root for or against ‘The Shooter,’ the mysterious, narcissistic Navy SEAL who might have killed the sheik, or might only have put a bullet in the dead sheik’s corpse.”

The cast and crew of the show reportedly celebrated by destroying as many props as they could in “controlled demolitions” while the final scenes were filmed, but reportedly a massive crowd of extras slowed that process down almost to a quagmire. (There were also repeated complaints about Craft Services having been unprepared to feed teeming hordes of family, friends, and acquaintances. Craft Services in turn pointed fingers at show staffers who had said there would be months to feed everyone.)

Producers issued a statement blaming the locals for all showing up at once, instead of coming in gradually “like we asked them to,” then quickly changed the subject to the show that is slated to replace “Afghanistan” in its time slot—“Taliban.”

"We can definitely promise ‘Game of Thrones’-level gore, incest, rape, and other ratings gold,” show-runner Joe Biden told reporters. Biden was brought in to oversee the final season after previous showrunner DJT was fired in a messy and well-documented dispute with shareholders. DJT continues to assert that he is still running the show, and has called for the firing of Biden and the finale’s scriptwriter, Mark Milley.

Critics have praised the decision to finally bring the long, dreary show to an end, but have criticized Biden’s decision to end it without warning several episodes early, even though doing so left potentially thousands of storylines hanging.

“C’mon, man,” Biden said. “This was a successful ending.”

Grumpy was the Duffel Blog's managing editor from 2014–2021, with a break in service for a failed stint in rehab.

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