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Winter TCA: PBS chief defends delayed 'Downton Abbey' run in U.S.

January 14, 2013
  • Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley and Robert Bathurst as Sir Anthony Strallan in "Downton Abbey."
Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith Crawley and Robert Bathurst as Sir Anthony… (Nick Briggs / PBS )

The chief of PBS has a message for "Downton Abbey" fans: I'm not trying to make your life miserable with spoilers.

"We're not punishing our viewers," PBS President and Chief Executive Paula Kerger reassured reporters Monday morning at the Television Critics Assn. TV press tour in Pasadena.

The problem is that PBS runs episodes of the smash British costume drama weeks after they have aired in the U.K. That means that American fans often find spoilers online that prematurely reveal important plot twists. Last month the fate of a certain character (who shall remain nameless here) was revealed at the end of Season 3, which did not start on PBS until Jan. 6.

Kerger is aware of the problem but said that PBS has to consider timing and other "complicated" considerations. Running "Downton" in the fall, concurrent with the British run, would conflict with the busy slate of fall premieres on broadcast networks, she said.

"To put 'Downton' in the teeth of that, I'm not sure serves anyone well," Kerger said. "We want to be sure it's seen by as many people as possible."

Kerger compared the situation to NBC's telecast of the Summer Olympics, which posted record ratings even though the prime-time events were shown hours after they happened. When a reporter pointed out that NBC had been heavily criticized for that approach, she backed away from the analogy.

But this month's huge Season 3 opening for "Downton" seems to validate the PBS approach. "We don't see numbers like that in television, certainly [not] in public television," Kerger said. "It was a beautiful thing."

Kerger also addressed the controversy over Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind "Sesame Street's" Elmo character, who resigned following allegations that he had sexual relationships with then-underage boys. The PBS leader said the show -- and the character -- will go on.

"The character of Elmo is larger than any individual," she said, adding that other "Sesame Street" characters, including Kermit the Frog, have been played by more than one person already.

Also on Monday, PBS announced that during the week of Feb. 18, it will air special programming devoted to the recent mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn. That includes a "Frontline" report examining the life of the accused shooter.


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Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT

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