Back in 2012, the BBC Two drama series Line of Duty wrapped its first season as the channel’s highest rated new drama in a decade. The series subsequently lost that crown to fellow BBC Two hit The Fall, but nevertheless the key point is that the initial five episode run was a hit with viewers; averaging an overnight audience of 3.2 million viewers and a consolidated audience of 4.1 million viewers. But things have been a little rockier for season two.
The show’s second season, which runs six episodes instead of five, debuted on BBC Two last month, returning to a series low audience of 1.8 million viewers. How did a show which was averaging 3 million viewers in the overnights in its first season fall so far? Initially there was concern amongst my BBC sources that if Line of Duty was suffering these kinds of ratings drops, The Fall, which is going to take longer than Line of Duty to return to our screens, could be facing a similar plight. But is that certain?
The initial series low rating for the opening episode of season two was not down to quality. This season’s storyline has been hailed as British drama at its best, and despite some behind the scenes issues with the departure of Robert Lindsay and the arrival of Mark Bonnar, the finished product is outstanding. No the ratings issues are down to an, arguably, tougher time-slot, which saw Line of Duty up against the likes of Outnumbered and Midsomer Murders; and a lack of public awareness that season two had begun.
That last two points are borne out by the ratings performance for the past five weeks that the series has been on the air. The second season has seen huge lifts from overnight to consolidated audiences, with some episodes registering as much as a 50% gain. Furthermore, as word began to spread in recent weekss that, not only was the series back, but it was GOOD, the overnights saw an uptick, with three weeks of successive ratings growth, resulting in last night’s season high (as illustrated in the graph above).
In short, Line of Duty has proven itself to be a utility player; growing its audience every week since season two launched. The initial audience of 1.8 million viewers for the season premiere, while down on season one, was still a decent figure for BBC Two. Had the series just hovered at or around an overnight audience of 2 million viewers and a consolidated of 3 million viewers, there would be enough of a case for renewal. But with the recent uptick and last night’s season high and Jed Mercurio & World Productions desire for a third season, there’s enough reason to be hopeful that AC-12 will be back once more. After all, a show that can break through on its own merits and grow week-to-week is a rare commodity these days.