Happy Valley finale is most-watched TV programme of year

Figures show BBC can still outdo streaming services, but search is now on for its next mega-hit

Happy Valley’s finale was the most-watched television programme of the year so far, as 7.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the conclusion of the BBC drama on Sunday night.

The Guardian’s five-star review described the show as “one of the greatest trilogies in modern television”, as viewers learned the fates of the police officer Catherine Cawood and criminal Tommy Lee Royce.

Happy Valley’s viewing figures have been a boost for the BBC, proving it can still reach larger audiences than deeper-pocketed subscription streaming services. In a sign of how audience behaviour has changed since the drama first aired in 2014, the total audience for this series of Happy Valley has grown even though the number of people watching it live on a Sunday night on BBC One has fallen.

Almost half of the show’s audience are now watching on catch-up via the BBC’s iPlayer service in the weeks after broadcast, meaning the ultimate viewing figure for the final episode is likely to be well over 10 million. This helps bring new viewers to the streaming service – with many watching the first two seasons of Happy Valley for the first time.

The actors Sarah Lancashire and James Norton reunited for the third series of the Calderdale-based drama, which was released seven years after they were last on screen together. The appeal of the interwoven plotlines against a backdrop of the Pennines and former mill towns has also provided a tourism boost, with fans of the shows visiting filming locations across West Yorkshire.

James Norton in Happy Valley.
James Norton in Happy Valley. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Lookout Point

Yet with Happy Valley now finished for good and no sign that a new series of Line of Duty is imminent, the BBC now needs to find a replacement mega-hit drama to fill the gap. Part of the challenge is that big-name producers and writers can now be lured away to Netflix after building an audience through the BBC – while other reliable hits such as Peaky Blinders have come to an end.

With BBC budgets stretched, the final series was co-produced with the American network AMC, which in return for funding gained exclusive rights to show the series on its AMC+ streaming service in North America.

Happy Valley helped make a star out of Norton, while also boosting Lancashire’s profile outside the UK. Having starred in the HBO series Julia, about the American chef Julia Child, the actor has set up her own television production company. The business, called Via Pictures, was founded in January alongside her husband, Peter Salmon – a former boss of BBC One who oversaw the launch of the broadcaster’s Salford base and ran the independent production company Banijay.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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