Bring Back the Bloody Crawleys Already

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 13 2011 11:59 AM

Downton Abbey Season 2: Shouldn’t PBS Just Air It, Already?

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Still of Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.

© 2010 Courtesy of MASTERPIECE

The second season of Downton Abbey premiered on September 18, 2011 in the U.K. But U.S. fans still need to wait until January 8 of next year to find out how the aristocratic Crawley family weathers modernity, entails, and World War I. Of course, impatient American viewers may seek unauthorized online sources in the meantime. Given that illegal streaming and downloading have become so common, why is PBS waiting almost four months to release the second season of Downton Abbey?

PBS says it comes down to the logistics of editing episodes and fitting Downton Abbey in with a busy fall season. “Programs are made for U.K. broadcast lengths, which require re-editing to fit our PBS time slot,” PBS’ Masterpiece producer Rebecca Eaton stated in an email, “And, since our Masterpiece schedule showcases our Classic programming in the winter, we’re beginning Downton Abbey season 2 in January 2012.”

PBS’s decision will disappoint American fans of British television who had hoped that BBC America’s Doctor Who would usher in a new era of same-day broadcasting of U.K. shows. Earlier this year, the newest season of Doctor Who aired on the same day worldwide in an attempt to bring fans together.* “We listened to our fans who wanted to be part of a global conversation,” said Richard DeCroce, Senior Vice President of Programming at BBC America. Same-day airings limited spoilers while also staving off potential revenue loss from illegal viewing of the show.

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PBS, however, may have less reason to be concerned with erosion from online streaming and downloading than BBC America did. Derek Kompare, a film and media arts professor at Southern Methodist University, believes that it’s valuable for networks to consider demographics on a show-by-show basis. For instance, delaying broadcast could build anticipation among older viewers who are less likely to use online streaming. Though a PBS spokesperson acknowledged via email that “resourceful fans will try to find a way to watch season two before the … PBS broadcast,” they also believe that many fans will tune in come January. “Also, we know that true Downton addicts will watch the series more than once.”

*Correction, October 13, 2011: This article originally misstated that the 2011 season of Doctor Who was its final season.