Downton Abbey kicked off in the UK on Sunday night with the Season 5 premiere drawing 8.43 million viewers on ITV. That is more than 1 million below last year’s Season 4 debut which averaged 9.5M in the overnights, peaking at 10.5M viewers for a 39.6% share. The Season 5 start had a 38% share. The viewership total for a the season opener was the smallest since 7.69 million watched the series premiere in 2010.
Last season saw an average 11.8M viewers over the course of its run, making Downton the highest-rated drama on UK TV in 2013.
This year’s goings-on at the Grantham estate begin in 1924 as Ramsay MacDonald becomes Britain’s first ever Labour Prime Minister. Lady Mary, who dealt with the demise of her husband Matthew in Season 4, will deal with defining how her life moves forward this year. Guest stars are to include Richard E Grant and Anna Chancellor.
Executive producer Gareth Neame told me last month, “We’re always doing twists and turns. I hope we will have a few things that will surprise this year” — and that there are no plans to end the series. Of no surprise is that there will continue to be a lag between the UK and U.S. airings with PBS premiering Season 5 on January 4, 2015.