ITV’s ‘Downton Abbey’ catches bad breaks

English viewers offended by the commercials

LONDON — The phenomenom that is “Downton Abbey” continued Sept. 18, more than 9 million viewers tuned in for season two’s bow on ITV1 — a hefty 34.6 share. Its popularity is such that when viewers who’d missed the telecast tried to watch “Downton” on ITV.com’s catch-up service later the same evening, demand was so great the website crashed.

NBCU, which owns the show’s producer Carnival Films, has sold “Downton” to more than 200 territories overseas.

On DVD and Blu-ray, it’s been breaking records — the saga of an aristocratic household in Edwardian England is the biggest selling TV series of all-time according to Amazon U.K.

Last week “Downton” won four Emmys, including best miniseries, reversing a trend that saw juries at both BAFTA and the Royal Television Society ignore the show.

But the success of the Julian Fellowes’ created skein has sparked a very English controversy.

British newspaper the Daily Mail estimated that, including plugs for other ITV shows, there was one minute of adverts for every three of “Downton Abbey” in the first episode of series two.

“ITV’s victory was bittersweet as viewers took to Internet messageboards to complain about the level of advertising,” said the Mail with all the haughtiness of “Downton’s” Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by Maggie Smith, who won a supporting actress Emmy on Sept. 18.

“A lot of people who are watching ‘Downton Abbey’ in the U.K. are middle-class audiences who generally avoid ITV and stick to the BBC,” says The Times’ TV critic Andrew Billen. “I think they were shocked to discover how many commercial breaks the show contained.”

Coddled Beeb auds aren’t used to ad breaks.

ITV was unrepentant. “We followed the same pattern as other 90-minute dramas. We are a commercial broadcaster,” says a rep.

The class-bound world portrayed in “Downton” is now thankfully a memory for most Brits, yet judging by the outcry over the proliferation of ad breaks in what is unquestionably the hottest and most hyped drama on U.K. TV, English snobbery lives on.