PBS timing for next Downton premiere draws attention

By Dru Sefton

PBS’s pending decision on whether to air the next season of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece in the fall — when it runs in Great Britain — or keep it at its usual January premiere date continues to generate chatter among media analysts.

Last month, PBS President Paula Kerger told members of the press at the TCA Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif.,  that the network is indeed considering a fall launch. “We’re going to end up making the decision based on what we think will be best for the viewers and what will serve them well,” Kerger said.

But if PBS did premiere Downton in the fall, it could be lost among all the other network shows, notes SNL Kagan, a news site that covers media/communications and other sectors. “I think they realize, and it looks like the ratings have borne this out, that they would get a higher audience holding it,” Carolyn Finger, s.v.p. of Variety Insight, told the site. “If there had been a concurrent window, it would not have had the gigantic [U.S.] opening weekend that it did.”

Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, told the site that the delay is “incredibly old-fashioned. It reminds me of back in the ’50s when programs would play live in New York and then be put on film and literally transported to Los Angeles to be played two weeks later. It seems like in this digital, immediate, global environment, that’s an incredible, old-school way of doing things.” But then again, he notes, “delay or no delay, Downton Abbey was a huge, huge hit.”

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