The prospect of seeing Panorama reporter John Sweeney blowing his top at a Church of Scientology spokesman helped the venerable BBC1 current affairs programme to its biggest audience in its new Monday night slot.
Last night’s edition of Panorama, called Scientology and Me, was watched by 4.4 million viewers with a 19% share, according to unofficial overnight figures.
The programme grew its audience by a million viewers during its 30-minute run, ending with a peak of 4.9 million in its second quarter hour.
Panorama’s average of 4.4 million viewers beat the previous high in its new Monday night slot of 4.1 million, for its investigation into the GMTV phone-in scandal last month.
It was also Panorama’s highest audience in any slot since September last year and its investigation into alleged football corruption.
Undercover: Football’s Dirty Secrets drew 5.2 million viewers for an hour-long special at 9pm on September 19.
The other highest rating shows in the current run of Panorama include season opener Should I Fight Back?, with 4 million, and Undercover Midwives, with 3.9 million.
Last night, Panorama was predictably beaten by Coronation Street on ITV1, which averaged 9.3 million.
But it beat its ITV1 current affairs rival, Tonight, which drew 3.9 million viewers half an hour earlier at 8pm.
At the same time as Panorama on BBC2, the second half of Giles Coren documentary Edwardian Supersize Me attracted 1.8 million viewers, while Channel 4’s Dispatches: Gordon Brown – Fit For Office? drew 1 million viewers.
Elsewhere last night, the first episode of new BBC2 series Power to the People started with 1 million viewers, a 4% share of the audience.
The show, in which Cornish residents went to London’s Islington to protest about the destruction of their local community, lost out to Channel Five’s Hidden Lives documentary, The Man Whose Arms Exploded, which drew 1.1 million viewers.
Power to the People, the first of a three-part series, was also beaten by Channel 4’s Cutting Edge: Mind Your F-ing Language, with 1.2 million viewers.
At the same time on ITV1, the first episode of Driving Me Crazy, in which former political correspondent John Sergeant railed against 4x4s, opened with 4.3 million viewers, just under one in five of the audience.
Driving Me Crazy was predictably beaten by BBC1’s drama New Tricks, which continued its strong run with 8.4 million viewers at 9pm, a 36% share.
Another new ITV1 factual show, Teen Boob Jobs: Too Much Too Young, began with 3 million viewers at 10pm.
Teen Boob Jobs lost out to a strong showing by BBC1’s 10pm news bulletin, which attracted 6.3 million viewers, 30% of the audience at 10pm.
• Original title: Panorama rant boosts ratings