There was mourning, the expected intrigue, dancing and looming change both upstairs and downstairs last night on the Season 4 premiere of Downton Abbey on PBS. There were also a lot of people watching: Airing at 9 PM, the two-hour episode, which is set in 1922 and takes place six months after the sudden death of Downton heir Matthew Crawley, pulled in 10.2 million viewers. That’s up 22% from the Season 3 debut and a series high for the show, eclipsing the previous record of the Season 3 finale on PBS last February. The third season of the British aristocratic period drama debuted on January 6, 2013, to 7.9 million viewers, which was a strong leap from the 4.2 million who watched the second-season launch on January 9, 2012. Even before this latest cycle started, Downton Abbey has been the highest-rated drama in PBS history.
Its Season 3 finale drew 8.2 million viewers on February 17 last year, a 50% surge from the Season 2 ender in 2012. With a 6.2 household rating, according to Nielsen, it is also the highest-rated drama premiere in PBS history and saw the public broadcaster matched with CBS as the most-watched network last night in its two-hour time slot. In the UK, the fourth cycle of the Julian Fellowes-created and Carnival Films-produced series had its best British debut ever with 9.5 million viewers watching the ITV-broadcasted show on September 22, 2013. The Downton Season 4 finale on November 10, 2013 hit a UK series-record 9.8 million viewers with a 40.2% share. The fifth season of Downtown Abbey has been set to premiere on co-producer PBS’ Masterpiece next January after debuting in the UK in the fall.