by Lisa McGarry

ITV has ordered a new eight-part series of lavish period drama Downton Abbey from Carnival Films for 2011 following the huge critical and ratings success of the first series broadcast currently on ITV1.

Downton Abbey debuted on September 26th with a consolidated audience of 9.2 million viewers, 32 percent share – making it the most successful new drama on any channel since Whitechapel launched on ITV1 in February 2009.

Described by the Daily Telegraph as “a sumptuous, instantly riveting glimpse of a world – and family – on the verge of profound change” and “beautifully made – handsome, artfully crafted and acted” by the Guardian, Downton Abbey’s total audience for the first episode has already exceeded 11.6 million viewers.

412,000 people viewed on the ITV Player, which broke the record for single-episode viewing on’s catch-up service. A further two million watched an ITV1 repeat of the Julian Fellowes scripted drama.

Episode two, which told the story of heir to Lord Grantham’s estate, Matthew Crawley and his mother Isobel arriving in Downton, grew its audience further achieving 11.8 million viewers – including the ITV1 repeat and ITV Player views.

Episode three which screened on Sunday evening (9pm, ITV1) achieved an overnight rating of 8.1 million and a 31% share of the viewing audience. Consolidated audience figures combining ITV Player and the ITV1 repeat will be released in the coming weeks.

With an all star cast including Dame Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Wilton, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Dan Stevens, Phyllis Logan, Siobhan Finneran, Rob James-Collier, and Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey is produced by Carnival Films, the production company which delivered ITV’s previously highest rating drama, Whitechapel, which returned to screens this week.

ITV’s Director of Drama Commissioning Laura Mackie commented:

“We’re delighted with the audience response to Downton Abbey and the positive critical reaction. We’re extremely proud to have commissioned a series which has clearly captivated ITV1 viewers. Consequently, we’re thrilled to be announcing the recommission of a new series for 2011 which will allow us to spend more time with the Crawley family and their servants.”

Carnival’s Managing Director Gareth Neame responded to the good news:

“Downton Abbey has really captured the imagination of the public and has delighted regular drama viewers and newcomers alike. Carnival/ NBCU International is committed to producing quality drama in the UK and along with the cast and production team are very excited to bring more stories of Downton Abbey to ITV1 next year.”