His Dark Materials Launches to Blockbuster Ratings

HBO and BBC One have premiered their shared adaptation of the His Dark Materials book series, and it seems like the show is off to a very good start. According to Deadline, His Dark Materials' series premiere raked in a whopping 7.2 million viewers in the 8pm time slot over on the UK's BBC One, where the show airs ahead of its Sunday night broadcast on HBO. Those ratings make His Dark Materials the biggest and best debut for a BBC One TV series in over five years, since The Musketeers aired in 2014. It was also the biggest new series on BBC One this year, and the winner of its time slot by wide margin.

It shouldn't be all that surprising that His Dark Materials is scoring such high ratings for BBC One: the book series by Philip Pullman has been very popular in the UK for years. The first book in the series, Northern Lights, won the Carnegie Medal for children's fiction in 1995, and was ten most important children's novels of the past 70 years by the organization in 2007, and voted the best winner in the history of the Carnegie Award that same year. The final book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass would win the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2011, the first children's literature entry to do so. During its 2000s heyday, His Dark Materials was also voted 3rd in BBC's "Big Read" poll, coming in behind Lord or the Rings and Pride and Prejudice. Sweden awarded Pullman with its Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for children's and youth literature, which is the nation's second most lauded literary prize after the Nobel Prize in Literature.

That's all to say: His Dark Materials is one of the most well-known book series in all of UK Literature, even if Americans are less familiar with it.

The real test of BBC One / HBO's new adaptation of Pullman's work is creating something that will appeal to a worldwide mainstream audience. Hollywood took a stab at it with the 2007 film The Golden Compass, but wound up just alienating both longtime fans of the books with an adaptation that watered down the novel's religious themes, while mainstream viewers were left confused by the lackluster presentation of the series deep and rich mythos. Ultimately, The Golden Compass killed momentum for His Dark Materials to be a big hit on the screen for the next ten years, but it seems the longer form of television will correct that missed opportunity.

His Dark Materials is now airing on HBO Sunday nights.