It’s been nearly eight months since PBS President Paula Kerger last met with reporters to discuss why the blazes “Downton Abbey” and other PBS programs don’t air domestically at the same time as they do Across the Pond.
On Tuesday (August 6), Kerger had her latest Television Critics Association press tour panel with reporters and was, predictably, asked the same familiar questions about spoilers and online piracy and whether or not those threats might lead to a premiere shift for PBS’ ratings standard-bearers.
The short answer? Nope! It’ll be delays-as-usual for “Downton Abbey,” which hits PBS on January 5, and probably for “Sherlock,” which has a yet-to-be-determined spring return.
Kerger began by saying that even if some viewers may be in a hurry to get their “Downton” fix, she still knows better than to give out spoilers when she speaks in a public capacity.
“Whenever I speak in public and talk about series like ‘Downton Abbey,’ I actually never talk about the end of Season 3 because there are a significant number of people who still haven”t seen it,” Kerger says. “And so I can make, you know, vague references to the fact that if anyone has an issue with the way that Season 3 ended, to please not contact me, to contact Julian Fellowes, because he does, in fact, write every word of dialogue and he owns those characters. Any plot development there is really his responsibility and not mine.”
But why does PBS continue to insist on programming “Downton Abbey” many months after its original UK airings?
Well, the answer is exactly the same as it was seven months ago.
“I think that as we have looked at this whole issue of spoilers, as we”ve thought about how to best, you know, steward the property and also think about the viewership, we”ve considered a number of factors with the scheduling of ‘Downton,'” Kerger notes. “So first is the fact that and you all have given me a hard time, with a loving I know with loving intent about the fact that we sometimes put our most competitive work face to face against all of the network premieres. So we look very carefully at the fall with that in mind. The second is the fact that as we look at how we can get promotion and buzz around the series, the fact that people talk about it and that that word of mouth sort of travels once it premieres in the U.K. has actually benefited us. And in fact, it is the highest-rated series that we”ve had, and the season finale one-night broadcast is the highest rating we”ve ever gotten in public television for a drama, and I think it”s the second-highest rating of anything after ‘The Civil Wars.’ So you kind of don”t want to mess with that if it”s working so well.”
Does that mean that all PBS drama programs will follow by the same hard-and-fast air-date rules?
“I think that as we look at scheduling programs that we are acquiring and particularly the dramas, what I just have described to you is not a hard-and-fast rule,” she says. “So, for example, for ‘Call the Midwife,’ we did air the December show, really, only a couple days after it aired in the U.K. And actually, it didn”t work out quite as well. And I don”t want to say that ‘Call the Midwife’ and ‘Downton Abbey’ are the same because they obviously are very different types of programs, but, you know, we”ll continue to look at each program as it comes up and then try to figure out, does it make sense to try to bring it really close to the broadcast window where it is seen anywhere else, or does it make sense to schedule it at a separate point in time? And that”s how we”ll continue to make the decisions about it.”
One series that could plausibly change things up for PBS is “Sherlock.” The Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman drama recently paneled to a packed room at San Diego’s Comic-Con.
“We haven”t yet set the broadcast for ‘Sherlock,’ and we are looking, actually, very carefully,” Kerger said. “I”m not sure the broadcast has actually been fully set for the U.K. broadcast either. But that”s a subject of great interest, obviously, because, like ‘Downton,’ it has a very passionate fan base.”
So there you go.
“Downton Abbey” will premiere on PBS on January 5 and many of you already will have already watched it through legal and illegal means by then.
“Sherlock” will premiere when “Sherlock” premieres.
PBS is paneling “Downton Abbey” on Tuesday evening. Follow the live-blog on our Starr Raving blog.