[SPOILERS for those not caught up on Sherlock ahead.]
Sherlock, the modern day reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle's famed sleuth, has been heavily praised since it debuted in 2010 and has catapulted its stars - Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as John Watson - to new heights. However, despite a heavily hyped return, its fourth season hasn't received quite the same unanimously positive reception. There's been increased criticism of the show's direction and despite being the most-watched program over Christmas in the UK, the premiere still saw a marked drop in views from last year's Victorian special and season 3.
The season reached its (literally) explosive end last night with a finale that resolved many long-standing mysteries and paid off several underlying character threads. The core of "The Final Problem" was concerned with Sherlock's secret sister, Euros, who was revealed in the final seconds of last week's episode to have been manipulating her brother from the shadows for a very long time. However, even with a cliffhanger that had everyone talking, the excitement didn't seem to increase interest in the series.
According to Deadline, the show got 5.9 million overnight viewers (a 27.2% share of the audience) on BBC One, down from last week's 6 million and a serious reduction from the premiere's 8.1 million (which became 11.3 million with catch-up numbers). That's the lowest overnight numbers the show's ever had and, even with a generous catch-up addition, will surely give the show its lowest total since season 1; the show hasn't dipped below 10 million since season 2 in 2012.
It's hard not to pin some of the blame on the show's quality. While plenty of people are still engaged by the series' constant twisting, many have grown increasingly wearisome of its illogical twists, constant baiting of the tumblr side of the fanbase and transition into something more akin to Bond than Sherlock Holmes. This has been a development that's been unfolding since season 3, so it's only inevitable people would begin to drop off. There's also the possibility that Sherlock has simply become less of a must-see and that people are no longer making the effort to catch it live, but instead watching it later.
Another, more nefarious potential cause for the drop is the fact that a Russian version of the episode leaked online before its UK debut, meaning fans had an illicit way to find out the resolution of the Euros mystery early. It's unclear how the leak came about or how widely viewed it was, but the Deadline report cites that the BBC are looking into it:
"BBC Worldwide takes breaches of our stringent content security protocols very seriously and we have initiated a full investigation into how this leak has occurred."
Regardless of the drop, it's worth pointing out that getting around 6 million live viewers in the UK is still a fair achievement by modern standards; something that is testament to the Sherlock brand's strength.
- Sherlock (BBC) release date: Dec 16, 2018