PBS exec: 'Downton Abbey' will continue to air with delay in America; but will 'Sherlock'?

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PBS president Paula Kerger today defended the often bemoaned American broadcast delay of Downton Abbey, which in past seasons has completed its run in the U.K. before premiering in the U.S, saying the network is hesitant to change a method that has worked well for them so far.

“I think as we have looked at this whole issue of spoilers and thought about how best to steward the property and also think about the viewership, we considered a number of factors in the scheduling of Downton,” she said during a panel at the Television Critics Association press tour, which concludes this week in Los Angeles. Those include, she said, attempting to avoid clashing with the slew of network premieres in the fall and harnessing the opportunities for word-of-mouth promotion. “The fact that word-of-mouth travels after it airs in the U.K. has actually benefited us … we kind of don’t want to mess with that if it’s working so well.”

That said, she admitted, “I will say to you … I think that as we look at scheduling programs that we are acquiring, particularly dramas, what I just described to you is not a hard and fast rule. … We’ll continue to look at each program as it comes up and then try to figure out if it makes sense to try to bring it very close to the broadcast window where it is seen everywhere else or does it make sense to schedule it at a different point and time.”

But what are the chances that Sherlock could be an exception to the rule? That’s currently unclear. Responding to a question about rumors that the Benedict Cumberbatch-helmed show would air at the same time on both side of the pond, Kerger said, “We haven’t yet set the broadcast for Sherlock and we’re actually looking very carefully. I don’t think the broadcast for the U.K. either. But that’s a subject of great interest, obviously, because like Downton, it has a very passionate fan base….we’ll look at the schedule for Sherlock very carefully.” Currently, Sherlock season three is slated to air early 2014. 

And while PBS’s buzzy British programs have contributed the network’s ratings rise in recent years, Kerger said they are “very open” to the idea of developing an original American drama as well. “We have been talking about putting a little bit of money into [research and development]. The challenge that we have obviously is we have limited dollars that we extend across all the content we’re developing and drama is expensive, no question about it,” she said. “I will say that if we go down this path I would not want to duplicate what everyone else is doing. We see an area within drama that we think is not being as well covered….that’s what we’re thinking about right now.”

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