Bad news for American “Downton Abbey” fans: PBS will continue to air the hit period drama months behind its original showings in the United Kingdom, making it much harder for American fans to avoid online spoilers.
On Tuesday, PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger appeared at the Television Critics Association press tour to inform critics that American fans will continue watching “Downton Abbey” three months behind their British friends.
"We have looked at this whole issue of spoilers and thought about how to best steward the broadcast," Kerger said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "We look carefully at the [competition] in the fall schedule with that in mind. We look at how we get promotion and buzz about it -- and that word of mouth has actually benefited us. We don't want to mess with that if it's working so well."
Kerger says this policy is designed to keep “Downton Abbey” competitive in the American ratings, noting that in the past, the network had aired shows closer to their UK release dates only to see unimpressive ratings.
"This is not a hard and fast rule," added Kerger. "With ‘Call the Midwife,’ we did air a December episode a couple days after the UK, and it didn't work out as well. We'll look at each program differently."
While PBS will continue to air “Downton Abbey” on a three-month delay, Kerger acknowledged that such a long delay might not be best for every show the network imports from the BBC. “Sherlock,” the BBC’s modern Sherlock Holmes update staring Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch, may in fact eventually be aired the same day as in the UK once new episodes are in production.
"We haven't yet set the broadcast for ‘Sherlock,’" said Kerger. “We're looking very carefully. But that is a subject of great interest. Obviously, like 'Downton,' it has a very passionate fan base."
Currently, “Downton Abbey” is by far PBS’s most popular show. The latest season finale reached 8.2 million viewers on PBS, making it the network’s highest ever scripted broadcast as well as most-watched broadcast since PBS aired Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” in 1990.