The return of Downton Abbey proved to be a ratings blockbuster for PBS, while critics mostly heaped praise on the Emmy-winning drama’s second season.
Downton’s season premiere Jan. 8  attracted an average 4.2 million viewers, not including viewing through station replays, DVRs or online streaming. That figure was double the average primetime rating for PBS and exceeded the average rating of the first season of Downton Abbey by 18 percent, the network said.
That night PBS’s audience was 64 percent larger than on previous Sundays this year, reaching an average Nielsen rating of 2.0, TRAC Media Services reported. In strong PBS cities Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis, the show had 5 ratings and 10 percent shares of the viewing audience at that hour.
In Colorado, the debut was marred by a digital glitch that froze the video, requiring rebroadcasts. Tom Craig, production manager of Rocky Mountain PBS, said the program’s digital file was corrupted as it moved between internal servers; the master control operators had gone home, leaving automation in charge; and the automatic alert on “relatively new servers” was not triggered. Staffers watching Downton at home realized the problem and hightailed it to the station. Management said it would return to a tape-based backup system.
The second season of the Masterpiece Classics series, which returns to the noble Crawley family and their servants on the vast English estate, Downton Abbey, is now set during World War I.
“It’s more than fun; it’s a sheer joy,” wrote Neil Justin in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “‘Masterpiece’ host Laura Linney says it best in her enthusiastic introduction to the new season: ‘It was worth the wait.’”
“This year’s Downton Abbey is at least as good as last year’s,” wrote the Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik. “Maybe better.” He concluded: “Scripted television does not get any better than this.”
“Masterpiece has outdone itself once again,” said PBS President Paula Kerger.
But the program was not entirely without detractors.
Said the Washington Post’s Hank Stuever, “Downton Abbey lacks surprise and is stretched precariously thin, a house full of fascinating people with not nearly enough to do, all caught in a loop of weak storylines that circle round but never fully propel.”
For those inspired by the series to learn more about Britain’s real-life Downton Abbeys, PBS is set to broadcast Secrets of the Manor House, a documentary about the stately homes of Edwardian England and the privileged families who lived within their high walls. The documentary was produced by U.K. independent producer Pioneer Productions.
For viewers trying to catch up on episodes from the first season of Downton Abbey, they are available for streaming on Netflix where, at last count, 147,613 viewers had given the series a cumulative rating of 4.6 out of 5.
And on the site of ITV, its home network in Britain.
There’s not much sex in this series, but the eyebrow raising and anticipation is “almost too sexy to bear,” says Bond Huberman in Seattle magazine.
Metacritic assembles the raves about Season 1, starting with Mary McNamara’s assessment in the Los Angeles Times, a year ago: “Downton Abbey, which premieres Sunday, is this generation’s “Upstairs, Downstairs,“ both in theme — the daily dramas of a titled British family and their many servants — and in stature.”