Why Does The UK Get 'Downton Abbey' Episodes Before the US? The Blame Lies With PBS
About a week ago I stumbled upon an article about Downton Abbey Season 5. Without thinking much about it, I clicked the link. First off, the article was using an old picture of Matthew Crawley, so all sorts of emotions welled up (read: tears). Secondly, — not realizing what I was clicking into — I was suddenly staring at ALL THE SPOILERS FROM DOWNTON SEASON 5. So where did this writer magically find a time machine and travel to the future to watch the new episodes? Sadly, they didn't need one; they lived in the UK, and had already seen Downton's new season. Diehard Downton fans knows this is just lemon juice on our papercut — the show airs first over in the UK, and then months later gets broadcast stateside. So, what gives? Why is life so cruel? Why do we have to wait? Why does the UK get Downton first?
Basically, it's all PBS' fault. Sorry to be the one to cast the first stone, Public Broadcast Service. But it needed to be said.
Television in the UK is set up a little bit differently than it is here, but it still operates with different channels for programming. Downton airs on a channel called ITV (NOT on the BBC One, which is a common mistake. We all just assume that all British programming comes from the BBC). Downton airs in the US airs on PBS, and it's kinda like how Sex and the City reruns air on TBS — TBS is allowed to edit out all the swearing and sex to make it suitable for audiences. ITV is a commercial channel, while PBS is not, so PBS goes ahead and edits the episodes to fit an hour long commercial-free format.
While PBS is free to edit whatever they want for Downton to be broadcast here, it does mean that basically the entire episode has to be edited from an already edited version broadcast in the UK. It's editing upon editing. PBS’s chief programming executive-general manager Beth Hoppe told Vulture that for the show to air in both regions at the same time, the show would have "two editing rooms going at the same time during postproduction, one for [the US] version and one for [the UK].” Something like that could also get a little bit costly. And no one wants to pay for two editing rooms for the same exact show.
Another factor is that PBS doesn't want to market Downton during the fall when the big networks start rolling out their new lineups. Can you imagine the juxtaposition between a commercial for The Flash, and then one for Downton? By pushing the air date for Downton, PBS can slowly roll out their marketing, and not worry about competing with huge shows on basic cable. This also frees up the Downton cast to promote the show in the UK during the fall, and come early winter, they're free to spend all their time on our side of the pond, reminding us to watch.
So, PBS, trying to save some money and draw in the most viewers, casually pushes the air date back to January. And while PBS seems content with their decision to delay its airing, not everyone involved with Downton is too pleased about it. Executive producer Gareth Neame told Vulture that "In this day and age, it’s clearly ridiculous that people watch the show in England four months early and 1.5 million people in America go and watch it illegally."
Sad thing is, that's true. I've already had 90 percent of this season ruined for me completely by accident (because articles do not provide spoiler warnings for a show that has technically already aired its entire season, you know?). But, even though I know exactly how the Christmas special ends, it doesn't mean I won't tune into the whole season. Oh, and PBS knows that. They get their edited version, their heavy Downton promotion, and viewers who haven't remained spoiler free. They've got their cake, and they're eating it, too.
What would the Dowager Countess have to say about that kind of gluttony?
Image: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2014 for MASTERPIECE; Giphy (2)