Add PBS CEO Paula Kerger to the list of network chiefs not buying what NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt was selling at Summer TV Press Tour about Flat being the new Up, ratings-wise. PBS is up 5% in primetime this year versus last, Kerger noted this morning at the tour. A chunk of that increase comes from the whopping 26% ratings spike PBS is enjoying on Sundays, thanks largely to Downton Abbey – which, irony of ironies, is a property of NBCUniversal International. Downton, Kerger noted, clocked around 8 million viewers in its most recent run, which makes it PBS’ most watched scripted series ever and the second most watched program of any genre, behind only Ken Burns’ docu The Civil War. “We are living in a golden era of drama in television…Sunday night on public television has become a great night for drama,” Kerger gloated.
She thanked cable networks that once gave PBS stiff content competition for “pivoting” in their programming strategy which “left a big opening” for public broadcasting.
Every year at TCA The Reporters Who Cover Television grill Kerger about the scheduling of Downton. And every year she promises PBS will look closely at whether to run the Julian Fellowes’ crunchy-gravel drama here at the same time as in the UK. Every time PBS announces the next season of Downton Abbey will debut – three months after its UK run. The fourth season, Kerger made official this morning, will debut on January 5; it unveils in the UK in September.
“We considered a number of factors,” Kerger said this morning. She noted the reporters are the same bunch who, at every press tour, give her a hard time about debuting programming in the teeth of the broadcast network’s fall show launches and also during broadcast sweeps periods. Airing the next season month behind the UK run creates “promotional buzz” for the franchise, because “word of mouth had actually benefited us,” she said. “We kind of don’t want to mess with that.” Moments later, however, she said PBS has not made its decision about the season debut of Sherlock. Given that it has been MIA from PBS’ schedule since January of ’12, a months-long wait after its UK play may not make sense, she said, promising, “We’re looking very carefully.”