Ever since the brilliant premiere of Downton Abbey in the UK this past Fall, the anticipation for its Sunday, 9 January, premiere on PBS’ Masterpiece series has been at an all-time high. Both critically acclaimed and a hit with audiences, the period drama returned ITV, at least for a bit, to the forefront of UK television.
Recent “reports” from the UK have suggested that the Downton Abbey which was broadcast in the UK is not what we will see in the US on PBS. Supposedly, the period drama had been cut from its original eight hours to a more short-attention spanned, manageable length of six hours. Some notion having to do with Americans not understanding the inheritance storyline throughout.
Fortunately, I was able to speak with the producers of Masterpiece today and can now set the record straight and leave everyone in America with the assurance that you can handle quality drama on television. Here are the main points to understand as fact….
- The series has been trimmed to fit PBS time slots and to allow for Masterpiece packaging, hosting, etc. Most of the reported time disparity is due to the difference between ITV commercial length vs. PBS length conventions
- The cuts were made overall throughout the entire series and not from episode one as some reports suggest. Also, this is not an uncommon practice as series cross the Atlantic
- Carnival Productions, the original producer of Downton Abbey, did the editing. Not PBS and not Masterpiece
- No character or storyline was eliminated, dropped or altered with the edits
There also seems to be a big deal made, again, by the “reports” of having Academy Award nominated actress, Laura Linney, appear at the beginning to “explain” the principle of inheritance. Having seen virtually all of the Masterpiece series over the years, having a host to set the stage for “what you are about to see” is called context and has been a common and welcome practice for the series dating back to the Alistair Cooke days and one that seems rather comforting to this day.
I’d also like to note that the reports that make it a point to remind us that PBS is “non-commercial” might lead one to believe edits should never be made because its not like you are needing to fit in a time slot and need room for commercials (e.g. Doctor Who on Syfy, MI5 on AMC, etc). If cuts are made, it is merely to make it a tighter show regardless of which side of the pond it originates. If you don’t believe me, check out this explanation on Televisionary from Jace, television columnist for The Daily Beast.
I believe we still possess the ability to grasp good television without succumbing to the need to dumb it down. Not to lapse into a ‘good old days syndrome’ moment, but there was a time when Americans were able to handle 10 hours of Brideshead Revisited, 70+ hours of Upstairs Downstairs or 11+ hours of Reilly: Ace of Spies without too much trouble.
Downton Abbey premieres this Sunday at 8p CT/9p ET on PBS stations nationwide. FYI, for those that want to see those crucial minutes, the North American DVD release will be of the original ITV version as it aired this past Fall.
Until then, 7.5 commercial-filled hours or 6 non-commercial hours, it’s definitely television worth your time.