What will ITV do after Downton Abbey?

Life after Downton was the elephant in the room at the preview for the final series of ITV's global hit says Mark Jefferies

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Last week a privileged 150 members of the media were invited to a London hotel to watch the first episode of the final series of Downton Abbey.

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Afterwards there was not one but two two press conferences on stage, followed by dozens of interviews with journalists eager to quiz the cast about every plot twist and costume detail.

But after watching the excellent opening episode and heading home later in the day, it struck me that the biggest, most important question had not been asked: how do ITV replace Downton Abbey?

Perhaps it’s a question no one can answer – but the channel’s bosses will have to try. The show has been on screen now every winter since 2010, pulling in around ten million viewers on a Sunday night for ITV, as well as millions and millions of pounds in advertising.

It’s been so successful that in recent years ITV has even challenged the BBC in the Christmas Day schedule with a festive episode – something it never used to really bother trying.

This year’s Christmas Day episode of Downton will be the last one ever, and could do brilliantly in the ratings. But after that the show is gone from the schedule.

ITV’s Director of Television Peter Fincham knows the drama’s worth. He described the screening as a “bitter sweet day” and said the show had “been a fantastic thing for ITV and around the world”.

As has been reported, the first episode of the sixth series of Downton contains a storyline about austerity, with the Earl of Grantham cutting back and worrying about his bank balance.

In real life Mr Fincham has the same issue. He has to find a Sunday night drama hit, which can pull in a huge audience and be attractive to advertisers. A hit like Downton doesn’t come along very often; I just hope he has his staff working hard to serve us up some more drama gems.

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Mark Jefferies is Showbiz Editor at the Daily Mirror