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‘The Vietnam War’ Premiere Is the Best Performing PBS Episode Since ‘Downton Abbey’ Series Finale

The first episode of the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary series has also broken PBS’ streaming records.

Ken Burns The Vietnam War

“The Vietnam War”


Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War” is arguably one of the most important television events of the year, and viewership has backed that up. In particular, its first episode has garnered record numbers, and the 10-part series continues to air and be streamed throughout the country as well as in Vietnam.

On the telecast side, the premiere of “The Vietnam War,” which aired on Sunday, Sept. 17, drew an audience of 9.6 million viewers with a 6.0 household rating, according to a report released by PBS. That makes it PBS’ highest-rated telecast for the season and best-performing telecast since the series finale of “Downton Abbey” in March 2016. It’s also one of the highest-rated episodes of all time for a Ken Burns/Lynn Novick series, far above their acclaimed “Prohibition,” “The War,” and “Jazz.” That 6.0 household rating also means that “The Vietnam War” is more than 300 greater than PBS’ average primetime rating. In all, 11.9 million unique viewers watched the first episode when taking into account Live +7 numbers.

The series has drawn critical acclaim for revealing never-before-seen footage and never-before-heard audio from all sides of the war: from the American soldiers on the ground, the politicians and families and protestors back in America, the North Vietnamese army, the Viet Cong, the Southern forces, and common citizens. The war was the most divisive conflict in the United States since the Civil War, and continues to have an effect on the country today. People seeking answers or at least to understand a little bit more about what happened during those years have thus been flocking to PBS’ balanced and wide-ranging series. The 18 hours across 10 episodes were a true achievement in documentary filmmaking.

The Vietnam War Ken Burns PBS March

“The Vietnam War”

Associated Press

Therefore, PBS also made an effort to make “The Vietnam War” available on as many platforms as possible. The first episode is the highest-streamed series premiere in PBS history, having been streamed over 2 million times on pbs.org and station-branded platforms. All 10 episodes of the series have been streamed more than 7.2 million times, with as many as 3.3 million streams being viewed on OTT apps.

In order for the series to have a broad a reach as possible in America, “The Vietnam War” was also translated into Spanish, and a version is available with Vietnamese subtitles. And, for the first time ever for PBS, the series was also streamed in Vietnam, and has been streamed there over 600,000 times to date.

“Lynn and I decided 10 years ago that we needed to make ’The Vietnam War’ because it is the most consequential event in the past 50 years of American history, yet we’ve never really talked about it as a nation,” said Burns in a statement. “To know that so many people watched the film and became engaged with it is a tremendous honor. We hope that all those who watched it will continue to learn about the war and its legacy and talk about it with their friends and family.”

Novick added, “We’re grateful to PBS for supporting this vision by making ‘The Vietnam War’ available on so many platforms, and making it possible for the people of Vietnam to stream the series online. There is enormous interest there; this is their story as much as ours.”

Conversations about the series took over social media as well: It was the No. 1 most discussed social documentary and special interest program on any network so far this year. For its debut, it was the No. 4 most social program in primetime, excluding sports. It’s the most social program for PBS this year.

For those still wanting to catch “The Vietnam War,” it is currently re-airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET from Oct. 3-Nov. 28. It’s also available for streaming at PBS.org and available on Blu-ray and DVD at shopPBS.org. The series will also be available for digital download.

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