February 23, 2012

THE SKED: “Downton Abbey” Classes Up the Nielsens

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Matthew and Lady Mary 4Ever!
The second season finale of DOWNTON ABBEY was watched by 5.4 million people, and while that may not sound like a lot (it’s about the same number as watched last night’s episode of Happy Endings, 3rd place in its timeslot), for PBS it’s pretty much Avatar.  It was the largest audience to watch PBS since a Ken Burns documentary 2 1/2 years ago, and it’s probably been a lot longer since a group that large gathered to watch a scripted show on the network. (It doubled the PBS regular programming average.) The rating was up 25% from Downton‘s first season, and that doesn’t count what PBS claims is an additional 1.5 million people who watched the show online (itself 4x the number of Season 1 online viewers).

Even more impressively, the audience for Downton is getting sharply younger, recapturing viewers who probably haven’t seen anything on PBS since their Sesame Street days.  Not even counting the high-rated finale, the teen audience for the show was up 88% from Season 1, and while the bulk of new viewers were women (up 145% in 34-49s and a staggering 251% in 18-34s), there were guys tuning in too (up 84% in 34-49s and 111% in 18-34s).  
However you cut those numbers, the show is a huge hit.  Any other network would probably be thinking spin-off:  Thomas as a ruthless stockbroker in the bear market of the 1920s?  Bates–released from prison–and Anna running their boarding house?  (Their problem is that Bates keep refusing payment, driven to sacrifice his own comfort for that of his guests.)  Alas, we’ll all have to wait close to a year for the show to return, with the extra bonus of Shirley MacLaine, joining the family as Lady Mary’s American grandmother, which is certain to mean a war of elderly-lady zingers with Maggie Smith that will send Hot In Cleveland hiding under the sofa.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."