Kicking off the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey in the U.S. on Sunday night, PBS Masterpiece registered an average audience of 9.9M viewers for the debut episode. The highest-rated drama in PBS history began its last run with the Crawley family seen by an audience just below the Season 5 premiere of 10.1M viewers. The season will now continue for eight more episodes, with the “Christmas special” finale airing in early March.
Last January in the U.S., Downton‘s Season 5 opener was down a tick from the Season 4 premiere of 10.2M (that was the one after Season 3’s tragic climax), but still made the 2015 season starter the franchise’s second highest rated episode at that point. That tick down had been the first time Downton went any way but up with a season debut, and this is another example. Of course, these up and down ratings ripples are a high-class issue for the highest-rated drama in PBS history. Last January’s launch had been the second most watched thing on all of U.S. television in its Sunday timeslot, behind football. Sunday night this year, PBS was the second most watched network from 9:30PM-10:15PM behind NBC.
The show has typically drawn higher ratings in the U.S. than in the UK, and the trend continues here. The Season 6 debut in Britain last September brought 7.6M viewers to the Grantham estate, the softest start to Julian Fellowes’ lauded creation since it began in 2010. And yet, the most-watched of any channel.
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There has always been a delay between the U.S. and UK broadcasts and the last episode of Downton‘s six-season run, which already aired on Christmas Day in the UK, well outperformed the competition there, scoring 6.9M viewers for a 28.6 share on ITV in the overnights. That figure got a 4M viewer bump in the consolidated ratings. In the UK, Downton ended its final season with an average 10.4M consolidated viewers over the first eight episodes.
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