PBS and WGBH-TV announced Monday that the fourth-season debut of the lush British miniseries attracted 10.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen Fast National data.
This audience improves upon the viewership of the third-season premiere by 22 percent. PBS says it's the highest-rated drama premiere in network history.
The two-hour episode picks up the action six months after the sudden death of Downton heir Matthew Crawley on last season's finale.
"Downton Abbey" airs on the "Masterpiece" anthology, which is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston. Stars include Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery and Maggie Smith.