PBS President: We Are Not ‘Punishing’ Our ‘Downton Abbey’ Viewers

by | January 17, 2013 at 2:33 PM | Downton Abbey, Midseason 2013

"Downton Abbey": Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley (Photo: Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE)

The third season of “Downton Abbey” premiered on PBS on January 6, several weeks after the series wrapped up in the U.K., so the Internet was full of hard-to-miss spoilers. For many vocal viewers, including the media, this ruins the watching experience. And they didn’t miss the opportunity to point that out to PBS President Paula Kerger at the network’s Television Critics Association press conference this week.

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“We’re not punishing our viewers,” Kerger responded. “We’re just looking at it very carefully … and we talk to a lot of people. … but at the end of the day, I want to make sure that we’re putting the series in a place where the most people can find it and that people will have an opportunity to enjoy it and be part of a larger experience.”

“Downton Abbey” aired Season 3 this fall in the U.K. Part of the debate for PBS is whether or not U.S. television is too full with new series in the fall for there to be room on the schedule to do “Downton” justice.

“You have encouraged us often that everyone puts their most competitive work on in the fall, and to put ‘Downton’ in the teeth of that, I’m not sure serves anyone well,” Kerger said. “There’s been an enormous generation of publicity and attention around the series that we benefit from by having it in January. So how we’re going to end up making the decision is actually based on what we think will be best for the viewers and will help serve them well.”

That said, PBS has experimented with closing the gap in airing co-productions. Kerger cites “Call the Midwife” as an example.

A Christmas episode of the series aired in the U.S. two days after it aired in the U.K. and it didn’t live up to ratings expectations.

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“They’re two different programs with different audiences and so forth,” she said. “Some overlap. But I think that what I will tell you is that we’re going to look very carefully at each and every circumstance and try to figure out whether we feel that it would serve the show and the audience better to try to put them closer together or to separate them out,” she says.

“Downton Abbey” has already been given a green light for a fourth season, and again, as a result of the earlier airing in the U.K., it has been revealed that Dan Stevens, who plays Lady Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) husband Matthew, will be leaving the cast. And it had been rumored that Maggie Smith, who plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham, might also not be back, but TVLine broke the news that “Downton Abbey” exec producer Gareth Neame has confirmed her return.

As for whether or not Shirley MacLaine will make an encore appearance as Lady Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern ) mother, it is too soon to tell as “Downton” creator Julian Fellowes has just begun work on the fourth season.

“I think she’s been great,” Kerger says. ” I don’t know what people thought when it was announced that she was joining the cast — that there would be catfights? But, I think, she’s been terrific. I think she has fit into the series extraordinarily well, and she’s added yet another dimension to the show.”

“Downton Abbey” airs new episodes Sunday nights at 9/8c on PBS as part of “Masterpiece Classic.”

See the Cast of “Downton” on a Recent Episode of “The View”: