'Downton Abbey II' and the problem(s) with PBS

“A gift from God,” is the way Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton described Downton Abbey, whose sequel will premiere Jan. Read the full post.

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  • kaydevo

    I always enjoy Masterpiece Mystery! There is no reason that PBS should be editing any of these shows! And the absurd political shenanigans over PBS’ funding means there will be no improvement in programming. PBS is in danger of being put out of business by deluded ideologues.

  • kay

    Sherlock! The Best! It will be shown in Britain in Oct. or Nov. Is it some rule that it has to be shown 6 months after for the U.S.?
    They will finishing shooting sometime in August.
    Wish it could have a wider audience, but netflix and DVD have helped it. And I would think when it is finally shown here there will be more people watching this time around.
    Is PBS going to show season one again? They are doing that now in England.

    • Lois

      Sherlock wasn’t done in time to show this year during “Masterpiece Mystery.” Since the next season of “Masterpiece Mystery” begins in May, they have to wait until them to show it. Of course they could also call it a “Contemporary” show, as it is set in contemporary times. Or they could just get rid of the Contemporary/Classic/Mystery distinction, which wouldn’t bother me.

  • Dave

    Overall, good article; I mostly agree.
    Random thoughts:
    1. Don’t edit Downton Abbey 2 even if it necessitates tweaking start time of the following program.
    2. Expand Nature’s season–more episodes.
    3. PBS is gonna lose 100% of government funding anyway under this new deal that caved to the Tea Party, so bring out the sword again. God knows with this crop of career politicians in charge there’s plenty of good material for Frontline, IL and possibly a good news magazine show.
    4. Get PBS true demographics straight. It’s Boomers that are watching and contributing. Under 35 for the most part may watch, and a good many are children, but they are NOT the ones donating to PBS.

  • Paloma

    So true.

    PBS used to have amazing shows. Masterpiece Theater was appointment TV. I grew up watching Shakespeare, and great science shows like “Scientific American Frontiers.” At least we still have NOVA and Frontline, but there used to be so much more. I used to watch PBS at least once a day, and now it is down to maybe twice a week. AND I NEVER watch the lame shows they program for fundraising. IF you want MY money, ask for it during shows that I like instead of using these stupid anthology music crap shows or those stupid motivational speakers. In other words PBS, you need to DARE to be great instead of hunkering down in mediocre.

    • DT

      And yet, when PBS stations stick to the regular schedule during their pledge drives, the phones don’t ring. There are exceptions; some stations do well with “Masterpiece” or “Antiques Roadshow.” But there’s a good reason you get what you get at pledge time; those “lame shows” bring in the cash that pays for the shows that you like.

  • sharkey

    I long for the days of I, Claudius and Dracula (the Louis Jourdan version).

  • Laura G

    I enjoy PBS and love Masterpiece Mystery, Contemporary, and Classic (although I thought it was silly when Masterpiece was split up, it does make sense). I also watch American Experience and American Masters. PBS has much higher quality programming than my local network stations and most cable stations. I disagree with this article as there have been a lot of great shows on Masterpiece that the mainstream media has not promoted or discussed over the years. I often wonder why the shows are almost never reviewed or promoted in Entertainment Weekly.

  • Justannesopinion

    I almost forget that there is a lot of good material on PBS, e.g. POV, Nature, Frontline, etc. because I’ve come to assiciate the network with mountains of indigestible mush, especially the bland nostalgia fests, not to mention marathons by Suze Orman and similar uninteresting non experts. And the Lawrence Welk. I’m almost 60 and the youngest person I ever knew who was a LW fan was my grandmother , who’d be 120 years old if still alive. Is the 120 y.o. demo huge? Not to mention that pledge drives are loaded with material that would make the most devoted fan run away screaming!
    I like Downton Abbey quite a lot, but I watched it on streaming Netflix, not PBS, because as you say on PBS it was just a name, no clue of special quality.

    • DT

      You’d be surprised at just how many people watch (and support) “The Lawrence Welk Show.” And no, they’re not 120 years old. It’s a syndicated show (not distributed by PBS), so if it wasn’t paying for itself, it wouldn’t be on the air.

  • Maida

    I really like a lot of PBS programming (Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, the new At the Movies, and the old movies they sometimes show on Saturday nights.) However, I really hate the WAY they program this stuff. I would be forever greatful if they could just have a consistent national schedule. At the Movies is always jumping around the schedule in my area, and the Saturday movies are hugely inconsistent. And if I go out of the area and try to watch Masterpiece or something at 9, half the time I’ll find that it’s started an hour earlier. This is no way to foster comitment or zeitgest. If PBS could just say, no matter where you are, At the Movies airs friday at 7, Masterpeice airs Sunday at 9, etc. that would really help a lot.
    Also, they should really send advance DVD copies od Masterpiece shows to more critics. Half the time I can’t find any reviews of these shows.

    • DT

      Keep in mind that you’re talking about two different things: PBS and your local public TV station. “At the Movies” is neither made nor distributed by PBS. The old movies that you like are purchased by your local station from the syndication market. There’s no consistent national schedule for those programs because they’re not nationally scheduled.

      On the other hand, if your local station is inconsistently airing a given series, there may be something else at work: commitments to local programs, pledge drives or such.

      The relationship between PBS and its member stations isn’t like (for example) NBC and its affiliates. Public TV stations pay PBS for its programming, and they have traditionally maintained a great deal of local control over its scheduling.

  • Liz 28

    My husband and I are in our late 20’s early 30’s and we really enjoy some of the programming on PBS. Thanks to EW we had the pleasure of watching Downton Abbey, Zen, and Sherlock Holmes. Thanks EW for the reviews!!! Because if it wasn’t for EW we’d never know what we’d been missing.

  • MMJ

    I love PBS, but I have a lot of the same complaints.

    New Programs: I understand that we’re not going to have access to the programs right after they air on the BBC or ITV. I don’t mind waiting (though, I do find some online!). However, why not show the classics while waiting for the new stuff?

    Pledge Drives: I’m tired of the crap shown at BFM (Beg For Money) time. How many times can I see the same concert, health show, etc? Why not bring back some of the classic programs—Danger UXB, Upstairs Downstairs, The Civil War, Brideshead Revisited, etc.—with the same DVD, CD, books, knick-knacks they offer now? Or, bring in some shows we haven’t yet seen? It’s not that I don’t watch some of the fluffy BFM shows, but it’s usually for a there’s-nothing-better-on reason. (I think of the pledge breaks as Time Life commercials.) They’re not all bad, but after two or three showings of the same program, even I’ve had enough.

    Regular Programming: I love Britcoms, but my local station has been playing the same four shows for at least five years. Why can’t we get anything new? Though, I think that might be a local rather than national problem. I do wish the PBS stations could have an exchange/sharing program so we can see new stuff. Even an exchange with Canada would get something new and interesting.

    BUT, even with the negative, there’s more to love about PBS. For a lot of people it’s their only access to culture—even with cable TV stations. BBCAmerica is good, but even they don’t show some of the things I can get on PBS—and for free, I might add. Even in these hard times, PBS is commercial-free. Between the regular PBS and their Create and World stations (DTV), I can always find something interesting to watch—even when commercial networks have nothing. Plus, it’s the only place to get some of the British programming I love watching. I also don’t have to worry about the kids’ programming.

    And, I donate because I DO watch. I think every household should donate, even if just a dollar a week. (I started at that when I was in college—actually, I rounded it to $60—and have gone up from there.) I waste that in a couple of trips to the movie theatre (which shows worse crap than PBS) or buying coffee a few times a month.

  • Maxim

    Better PBS? Simple: fewer guitar-strumming rednecks and reprise the early 70’s War and Peace; more opera; more ballet. Let’s bring the audience up to the level of the material, not lower the material to the level of the audience.

  • lishka9

    This critique is excellent. My husband and I both love to watch PBS but it is like PBS is afraid to actually do something as crass as “market” the product. You have to stumble on these gems like a blind squirrel. PBS needs to take whatever money it gets and invest in BOTH quality programming and a diverse marketing campaign.

  • Hank Bird

    Message to PBS executives: “If you do the same old stuff in the same old ways, you’ll get the same old results.” This applies particularly to the pledge drives, which years ago stimulated me to stop contributing, and tune to out PBS during those seemingly-endless weeks. The variety-show and self-help content is a complete mismatch with respect to what made PBS great — NOVA, Masterpiece Theater, American Experience, Mystery, Frontline, britcoms, etc. The people who watched that were the ones who supported you year after year; the ones who like your current pledge-drive stuff only get to see it during pledge drives. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

  • Rachel K

    If PBS never did anything again but produce The News Hour, that would make it worth every penny everyone ever gave — and that includes federal funding.
    Our local affiliate has gone to asking members to give in advance of airing pledge weeks, with the payoff that the more they raise in advance, the shorter pledge time. It is working pretty well here, but we are not as recession-poor as some areas. At least not yet.
    And yes, doo-wop is not my favorite — but if I hadn’t watched the pledge drive folk music special, I never would have discovered the Chad Mitchell Trio, and they were worth discovering!

  • skylark

    Excellent writing from a perceptive mind. Downton Abbey captivated myself as well… back to a time when the Lord of the Manor shouldered the responsibility for the care and welfare of those under his command. Each, no matter what the station worked for excellence and we honored and respected for their professions… it seems another world now.. I write for the Times Finance.. where man worships money and takes whatever by however means they can.. Downton Abbey is like watching a Lost World.. and in a very real way.. The Loss is Ours.. so we watch and remember and feel.. The Artists are doing their jobs.. will we?

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