Tuesday 4 January 2011

Mail on Sunday gets it wrong on US broadcast of 'Downton Abbey'

A couple of days ago, the spirit of Richard Littlejohn's 'Chad Hanging' seemed to influence this Mail on Sunday article by Chris Hastings:

Hastings claimed that when ITV series Downton Abbey is screened in America next week it is 'feared':

...viewers will be left baffled...the beautifully nuanced portrait of pre-First World War upper-class life could prove just a little too complex for the trans­atlantic audience...in the land of the notoriously short attention span.

As a result, Downton, which ran for eight hours on ITV, has been slashed to six for the States.

So the running time has been 'slashed' by two hours? Yet later in the article, Hastings says that Rebecca Eaton, an executive producer for the PBS network (which is broadcasting the series):

insisted that any changes were minor and did not affect the quality of the programme.

A 'minor' change of cutting two hours? That doesn't sound right. And it isn't.

According to Jace Lacob, the TV Columnist of the Daily Beast, who was interviewed (and ignored) by Hastings:

To put it bluntly: it's simply not true.

While I would be incensed about the article to begin with--given that Hastings took up my time on vacation, interrupted me incessantly while I was answering his questions, refused to listen to me, clearly had an agenda of his own, and then had the temerity to quote my review without proper attribution--I'm most angry about the fact that I actually did the math for Hastings during the interview, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that there weren't two hours missing from the US broadcast of the series.

The only thing missing here are, in fact, the commercials themselves...

Let's take a closer look. PBS is airing Downton Abbey as four 90-minute episodes, bringing it to a run-time of roughly 6 hours. Removing the ad breaks, ITV's run of Downton Abbey ran for--wait for it--roughly six hours. (Two episodes ran as 60 minute installments, while five ran for 45 minutes excluding the commercials)...

The numbers that Hastings was using to make his case about widespread cuts failed to take into account the commercials, which don't air on PBS, even though he himself admits this in his piece.

Although there will be some minor edits (some to accommodate the change in the number of episodes), the missing two hours are, essentially, the ad breaks. It's not about the 'intricate plot' being removed to stop viewers being 'baffled'.

Also in the article, Hastings sneers:

PBS also believes its audiences will need an American to outline the key themes of the show. So before the first episode, actress Laura Linney will explain the inheritance principle.

In fact, Downton Abbey is being broadcast in PBS' Masterpiece strand which has been hosted by Amercians and Brits for forty years. Linney happens to present Masterpiece Classic, which is showing Downton. Lacob points out:

First, Masterpiece's hosts typically do explore the historical and social contexts for the series...Nothing new there as Linney is performing the same role that all of Masterpiece's hosts ably step into before each episode of a program.

Second, Linney might be American but her fellow hosts--among them, past and present, David Tennant, Alan Cumming, Matthew Goode, etc.--are not. So I'm not sure what to make of the "Americans need Americans to explain things to them" comment, which just comes across as ill-informed and mean-spirited.

Lacob also describes Hastings' article as 'messy' and 'wrong-headed' and said later it would be the 'last time I talk to a tab'. Given he told the truth about the running time and Hastings decided - for whatever reason - to ignore it, who can blame him?

(Hat-tip to Peter Bulkeley)


  1. "could prove just a little too complex for the trans­atlantic audience...in the land of the notoriously short attention span."

    This being the land that has brought us epic serialisations such as The Sopranos and The Wire, whilst our creme de la creme is the X-Factor, Britain's Got Talent and Big Brother, which The Mail cover in spades.

  2. Its papers like this that give people outside of England the opinion that England is full of what we in Ireland would call "Little Englanders", people so far up their own holes and blind to the outside world, constantly looking down at everyone else who isn't white and English as inferior and using stereotypes as fact.

    but hey I know its not....
    anywho I'm off to get fecked up on Guinness and fight me sister

  3. The mail office in LA obviously couldn't churn out enough double page splashes of underage female celebs caught without bras on over the Christmas break so they have, naturally, resorted to insulting the American market instead.

    Someone mentioned little Englanders. They do exist, unfortunatly, they usually vote UKIP and thrive on this kind of "journalism". They absolutly love reading about how silly/awful/foreign other countries are (especially America, Germany, France and 'Eastern Europe'). These kind of people are basicly keeping the journos at the Mail and Express in a job by buying thier dross every day and lapping it up without question.

  4. Oh, comments not available. DM writers don't like being told they're wrong, do they?

  5. I laughed out loud at the Laura Linney bit. Amazing.

  6. Clearly, a class action suit for libel by the entire population of the USA is called for.

  7. It's funny, but I remember a few British reviews of "Downton Abbey" when it first aired there, pointing out that many British viewers wouldn't know what an entail is (or was).

    And I'm glad it was pointed out that "Masterpiece Theatre" has always had a host introducing stories and discussing background and context. "Mystery" was always the same, and ITV shows in particular gave the host ample time to discuss all manner of interesting points, because when the ads were removed for PBS there was an extra 10 minutes or so of running time to fill. I remember, when I lived in Britain, showing some friends there an episode of "Mystery" I'd taped in Canada, with Vincent Price introducing one of the Jeremy Brett Holmes episodes. They were gobsmacked at how good and interesting it was. "And this is what you got with every single episode?" they asked, in a combination of admiration and jealousy.


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