The 6th and final season of ITV’s flagship period drama, Downton Abbey, launched in the UK last night at 9 PM local time and continued a downward live-viewing trend, even of the most revered dramas. With 7.6M viewers for the UK debut, this was the softest start to Julian Fellowes’ lauded creation since it began in 2010. But, it was still the most-watched show of any channel on Sunday, peaking at 8.4M and landing a 36 share — easily besting comers, including BBC One’s new drama The Go Between which drew 2.6M pairs of eyeballs, according to the overnights.
Although viewing figures have fluctuated, Downton‘s past few years have shown a steady overnight share in the high 30s. Last year’s Season 5 premiere drew 8.43M viewers and a 38 share in the overnights — a drop of more than 1M from the Season 4 debut. When Live +7s were tallied, the numbers rose to 10.7M viewers and a 41 share, the 2nd best for a kick-off after the previous year. This launch will see an increase once the consolidated figures are culled.
Reviews for the beginning of the end have been generally positive. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s everything a Downton fan would want and sets up the rest of the season nicely. The show won’t start airing on Masterpiece in the U.S. until January 3, so I won’t offer any spoilers except to say there’s a touch of blackmail, some uncomfortable discussions about the future and at least one Dowager Countess quip that could rival “What is a weekend?” when all is said and done.
While a potential movie has been mooted, the final season will conclude with a Christmas special in December. Fellowes, executive producer Gareth Neame, producer Liz Trubridge and the cast have all said they believe this year is the right time to go for the drama that has been a key figure in this new Golden Age of telvision. Fellowes has not wrapped everything up in a bow for the end, but has said he’s “shown a chunk of what everyone’s life would be” once the cameras stop rolling.