Germany's Offbeat New Year's TV Tradition Is a Ratings Hit

Courtesy of NDR
'Dinner for One'

More than 17 million viewers tuned in to watch versions of 'Dinner for One,' an English-language sketch from 1963 featuring a 90-year-old heiress and her increasingly intoxicated butler.

An 11-minute black-and-white comedy sketch from 1963 continues to dominate German TV viewing on New Year's Eve, with ratings hitting a new high as the country rang in 2017.

More than 17 million Germans tuned in Dec. 31, 2016, to watch Dinner for One, a new ratings record for what has become an enduring, if inexplicable, TV tradition in the country.

The comedy skit stars the late, now-forgotten British music hall regular Freddie Frinton as James, a devoted butler to Miss Sophie (May Warden), an old aristocrat. Miss Sophie is celebrating her 90th birthday with her four closest friends. Sadly, they all died years ago, so James steps in to playact each role, imitating her friends’ mannerisms and quaffing toasts for the entire quartet. Each course begins with the signature refrain, which has become a national catchphrase and drinking-game cue across Germany: “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” asks James. “The same procedure as every year, James,” replies Miss Sophie.

What follows is an increasingly intoxicated James struggling to maintain protocol as he sloppily spills drinks, trips repeatedly over a tiger pelt rug in the middle of the room and, at one point, downs the contents of a flower vase. The sketch ends with James’ final “procedure”: carrying Miss Sophie up the stairs to bed and, one assumes, a little extramarital holiday cheer.

Originally recorded in English for German TV in 1963, Dinner for One has only grown in popularity over the years. This past New Year's Eve, there were 23 airings on Germany's public channels — most of the original, English version of the sketch, but also multiple adaptations, including ones in Swiss German, local regional dialects and a kids version with puppets.

Total viewership, at more than 17 million, broke 2015's ratings record by more than 800,000 viewers. With more than 300 airings since its premiere, Dinner for One is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most oft-repeated show in television history.

This time around, even Netflix got into the Dinner for One act, recording a 16-minute promo spoofing the beloved sketch. In the Netflix version, Miss Sophie is a binge-watcher and her four “guests” are Better Call Saul's Saul Goodman, President Francis Underwood of House of Cards, Narcos' anti-hero Pablo Escobar and Suzanne 'Crazy Eyes' Warren of Orange Is the New Black.

Check out the Netflix version below.