Why Breaking Bad didn’t scare Dish, but Walking Dead will

Dish Network (s DISH) clearly isn’t afraid of Albuquerque drug kingpin Walter White. But wait until AMC’s zombies come back in October.

Yes, despite tons of critical praise, Netflix usage and social media buzz, Breaking Bad remains only a niche hit, incapable of producing enough leverage to bring Dish Network back to the negotiating table and end a 16-day-old impasse that has kept AMC Networks (s AMCX) channels off its service.

Also read: AMC to stream Breaking Bad for blacked-out Dish users

Sure, the 2.9 million viewers the show about a crystal meth kingpin averaged for the initial run of its fifth-season premiere Sunday night may have set a series record. And who knows how many more tuned into the live stream AMC set up specifically for refugee Dish subscribers (an inquiry sent to AMC was not responded to).

But put that rating in perspective: That was only 300,000 viewers more than the 2.6 million averaged by Sunday’s debut of Political Animals, which now faces extinction on the top-rated USA Network.

Also read: AMC – “Dish never even talked rates with us”

So when will Dish’s nearly 14 million subscribers finally get AMC, IFC and WE TV back in their homes? Well, Sept. 18 seems like an interesting date to point to — that’s when a court dispute over an unrelated matter, Dish’s dropping of Voom HD channels four years ago, goes to trial.

AMC Networks, and its former corporate parent, Cablevision, (s CV) will go into that litigation with the upper hand. And it’s widely believed that Dish dropped AMC’s channels not because of what it claims are excessive rate increase demands but to gain leverage in litigation that could cost it more than $2.5 billion.

Another key date on the calendar: Oct. 14

On that Sunday, AMC will premiere the third season of The Walking Dead, which has managed to what AMC’s other critical darlings, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, have not — break out into mainstream hit status.

Also read: For Netflix users, “catch-up” TV viewing has a catch

The season two debut of Walking Dead last October averaged a whopping 7.3 million viewers, setting basic-cable records in the adults 18-49 and 25-54 demographics. We suspect Dish will have major subscriber revolt on its hands if AMC isn’t restored by that time.