An average of 8.5 million viewers tuned in for Downton Abbey‘s fourth season finale last night. That’s a personal finale best for the period drama on PBS. The Season 3 finale drew 8.2 million viewers on February 17 last year, a 50% surge from the Season 2 ender in 2012.
This season opened on January 5 with 10.2 million tuned in – up 22% compared to the Season 3 debut of 7.9 million which, in turn had been a leap from the series Season 2 launch crowd of 4.2 mil. Even before this latest cycle started, Downton Abbey has been the highest-rated drama in PBS history.
TCA: Valerie Plame Says ‘Homeland’ Jumped The Shark, Astronaut Peggy Whitson Critiques Sandra Bullock’s ‘Gravity’ Undies
“He ‘stood by me’ even though our ratings were blockbuster and we kicked Fox’s ass? Thank you for ‘standing by me’,” Kathy Griffin snarked at Winter TV Press Tour 2014 when asked about CNN chief Jeff Zucker saying at the tour he was committed to having Griffin back with Anderson Cooper to host CNN’s New Year’s Eve show.
Griffin came to the final session of Winter TV Press Tour 2014 to participate in a Q&A for PBS’s second round of Makers: Women Who Make America documentaries. She was joined by former CIA agent Valerie Plame, and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson — all three women are part of the next batch of six one-hour documentaries looking at women’s roles in war, comedy, space, business, Hollywood and politics.
TCA: PBS Orders More ‘Women Who Make America’, Interviews Lena Dunham, Sarah Silverman, Shonda Rhimes
PBS is partnering with AOL for six new one-hour documentaries as part of its Makers: Women Who Make America franchise. Scheduled to premiere in June and August 2014, the docus build on the multi-platform initiative founded by filmmaker Dyllan McGee, which launched in 2012. The new series expands on the three-hour PBS documentary of same name, which premiered in February 2013 and told the story of the American women’s movement over the last half-century. Kathy Griffin, former CIA agent Valerie Plame, former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and the producers of Makers are scheduled to discuss the project at the press tour tomorrow. Among those profiled in the docu-series are Lena Dunham, Chelsea Handler, Shonda Rhimes, and Sarah Silverman. Each of the new documentaries tackles a different sphere of influence, including business, war, space, Hollywood, politics and comedy.
PBS Kids has ordered a new live-action series, Odd Squad, in which two agents, Olive and Otto, are on a mission to save the day using math. Odd Squad is created by Tim McKeon (Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Adventure Time, The Electric Company) and Adam Peltzman (The Electric Company, The Backyardigans, Wallykazam!), and produced by Canadian kids TV producer Sinking Ship Entertainment and The Fred Rogers Company. The new series is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Each episode of Odd Squad includes two 11-minute cases in which the agents use math to recapture a gallon-sized blob that has separated into smaller pieces, deal with a slew of unicorns, dinosaurs and wizards that have escaped from books, etc.
TCA: Ken Burns’ 10-Year Plan Includes Roosevelts, Cancer, Jackie Robinson, Ernest Hemingway and Vietnam
“I’m a pig in shit,” Ken Burns said of his quantity of documentary films in the pipeline. First up: The Address is extremely short by Burns’ standards – under two hours long. It follows a school in Vermont that has students each year memorize the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Lincoln on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of a cemetery on the site of the bloodiest battle ever fought on U.S. soil. It was, Burns noted, not universally embraced at the time – a Chicago newspaper’s review said, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.” The Address airs April 15 at 9 PM on PBS.
PBS‘ Britcom Vicious is retro in form, contemporary in subject matter and could not have been made on a U.S. network owing to the age of its actors, the creator and stars said today at TCA. Vicious stars Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as Freddie and Stuart, a gay couple who have been together for nearly 5 decades. The comedy, which already has aired its first season in the UK on ITV, would not have been done in the U.S. at this time, because both stars are in their 70s, all parties discussing the show at the Winter TV Press Tour agreed. This came the morning after NBC announced it was developing a sort of Golden Girls update — because, NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt said, it’s something he’s not seeing on the primetime TV landscape. While TV critics marveled at the show getting made at all — and PBS’ courage in broadcasting it, starting in July — McKellen, appearing via satellite, insisted it’s still much easier for actors in their 70s to get work than for actresses. Jacobi, also via satellite, said the public is clamoring for programming about older characters, without elaborating. He did say how good it is to be in his 70s and still be asked to perform (he also stars in the British series Last Tango In Halifax, also airing on PBS, which earlier today made official its second-season pickup).
TCA: PBS Chief Paula Kerger Announces ‘Vicious’ Premiere Date, Teases Ken Burns Country Music Docu, Talks ‘Downton Abbey’
PBS has announced the premiere date of the Britcom Vicious, starring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as a gay couple who have been together nearly half a century. The six-part series, which PBS acquired from Shine International in October, will air on Sundays and premiere July 6 at 10:30 PM. Meanwhile, Jacobi’s drama Last Tango In Halifax has been ordered for a second season, returning June 29, PBS chief Paula Kerger announced this morning at TCA. Also unveiled: Ken Burns is working on a a documentary series about country music — though it won’t air until 2018, Kerger said this morning. Country Music will follow its evolution of over the course of the 20th century as it “eventually emerged to become America’s music,” PBS claimed in its announcement.
And, PBS will never, ever air Downton Abbey seasons closer to its UK run, Kerger indicated — hopefully putting a stake in that debate for press tours ever after. Kerger cited this month’s Season 4 debut audience – 10.2 million viewers, which was a 22% jump compared to the Season 3 opener (7.9 million), which itself had been a leap from the series Season 2 launch crowd of 4.2 mil. Downton is PBS’ highest rated drama ever. ”It’s become a bit of tradition after the holidays to come together to watch Downton,” Kerger said happily. “The audience build over the years…argues to keep the January time frame,” she said. And, of course, a fall launch coinciding with the UK’s Downton season would put it in the teeth of the commercial broadcast network’s fall-season rollout, which, she noted, TV critics in the room had criticized PBS for doing in the past. Not to mention that the series’ UK broadcaster determines its debut date not terribly long before it actually happens — no weeks and weeks of promotions, as is the norm in the U.S. PBS cannot upstage the show in the UK.
Foyle’s War has been greenlit for an eighth season, scheduled for release in 2015. Acorn Productions, ITV, and Eleventh Hour Films this morning announced another three-episode season, starring Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks, and written by screenwriter Anthony Horowitz. No word from PBS as to whether it will pick up the new season of 3 X 120 episodes, on which filming is scheduled to begin in January. PBS ran the most recent three-episode season in September, as part of its Masterpiece Mystery franchise.
In 2010, Silver Spring, Md.-based Acorn, a company best known for its DVD releases of British crunchy-gravel dramas, announced it had bought the British franchise Foyle’s War from UK production indie Greenlit Rights, which had gone into so-called “administration.” It marked the first time Acorn had bought ownership rights to one of its British series. Foyle’s War had been one of Acorn’s top-selling franchises on DVD for many years, and had last aired on PBS in May of ’10. The original series was set during WWII in Hastings, on the south coast of England — starring Kitchen as methodical Det. Christopher Foyle, a widower who, assisted by his driver Samantha, catches criminals by taking advantage of the confusion created by the war.