The BBC have pulled out the big guns for the Christmas Day ratings battle scheduling Call The Midwife in a bid to defeat ITV1 favourite Downton Abbey once again.
Just days after ITV confirmed details of a two-hour Downton Christmas special, BBC One has revealed a 75-minute episode of the East End drama based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth.
Last year the channels went head-to-head with the BBC broadcasting an EastEnders special which overlapped with an hour of Downton Abbey. But after the BBC’s long-running soap beat ITV’s Sunday night period drama on the night drawing in 9.9 million viewers to Downton’s 8.4 million.
This year broadcasters have made an unprecedented move to stop the most anticipated programmes from clashing. According to reports BBC One will broadcast Call The Midwife from 7.45pm and ITV1 will show Downton Abbey at 9pm, giving Christmas revellers the opportunity for a solid three hours and fifteen minutes in front of the box.
“It is the season of good will and there was a realisation that the audience would lose out if there was a clash. Think of it as a special Christmas present for viewers,” an insider told the Mirror.
According to Broadcast Now BBC One claimed the largest share of last Christmas’ viewing from 6pm to 10.30, with an audience of 30.29% (8.06 million) to ITV1’s 28.2% (7.52 million).
Downton fans have been told to keep “tissues at the ready” for this year’s special. The warning follows the shocking demise of Lady Sybil in childbirth in Series Three. The Julian Fellowes drama, which has spanned the First World War and is now set in the roaring Twenties, is set to lose another crucial character with reports suggesting that Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley, has quit the programme to move to America.
Call The Midwife actress Jenny Agutter has called the Christmas episode of a “grittier” offering than the “sugar and sweetness” of Downton Abbey. A clip of the special broadcast during Children In Need showed the trainee midwives at Nonnatus House discovering an abandoned baby on their doorstep.
“After too much Christmas pudding, I think it’s good to have something like us on TV,” she told The Telegraph. “I think it’s a nice counterpoint to Downton. I think they balance each other out.”
Although last year Downton came a disappointing fourth in the list of Christmas Day’s most-watched (behind EastEnders, Coronation Street and Doctor Who), another 3.5 million people recorded it to watch later, making it the most-watched programme of the festive period.
Call The Midwife is BBC One's most-watched new drama since records began, regularly commanding more than 9 million viewers.
Other BBC Christmas specials on the menu include The Royle Family, Doctor Who and Miranda.