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PBS Ranks Eighth Highest Rated Network

PASADENA, Calif. — "We're number 8!"

Driven in large part by Downton Abbey, which returned to its highest numbers yet, PBS is now the eighth-highest rated network, broadcast or cable. And the growth isn't limited to TV ratings, says PBS's president and CEO Paula Kerger — PBS even trends on Twitter.

Still, says Kerger, while she's obviously happy with higher ratings, they aren't and have never been PBS's main goal. "It's important to me only if we're connecting viewers with programming that makes an impact," she says. "We take this responsibility to heart … and I believe we are making progress in pursuit of our mission."

At the moment, that mission is built upon a solid Sunday block, with Downton Abbey leading into the return of Sherlock. Then in the spring, PBS Sunday viewers can look forward to Call the Midwife and Mister Selfridge on March 30, The Bletchley Circle on April 20, and Last Tango in Halifax on June 29.

As for Downton, the lesson Kerger has taken from those ratings is that many viewers now look forward to the show's January return as a post-holiday viewing treat. Which is why she has no plans to move the show's American airing closer to the British fall airdate, even though some people now download the British feed. She feels most people still want to watch Downton on their TVs in January — and together, as a communal experience.

While it may be PBS's most popular series, Downton doesn't define PBS. For some viewers, PBS means kids' programs like Sesame Street or hard-hitting investigative series like Frontline. For some, it means arts programming — the kind A&E and Bravo once promised to deliver, but no longer do.

And for others, PBS means Ken Burns — and that partnership shows no signs of slowing. Next up on April 15 he has The Address, which follows a group of students as they learn the Gettysburg Address. And looking further ahead, he's working on a history of country music called Country Music.

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