PBS has announced the premiere date of the Britcom Vicious, starring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as a gay couple who have been together nearly half a century. The six-part series, which PBS acquired from Shine International in October, will air on Sundays and premiere July 6 at 10:30 PM. Meanwhile, Jacobi’s drama Last Tango In Halifax has been ordered for a second season, returning June 29, PBS chief Paula Kerger announced this morning at TCA. Also unveiled: Ken Burns is working on a a documentary series about country music — though it won’t air until 2018, Kerger said this morning. Country Music will follow its evolution of over the course of the 20th century as it “eventually emerged to become America’s music,” PBS claimed in its announcement.
And, PBS will never, ever air Downton Abbey seasons closer to its UK run, Kerger indicated — hopefully putting a stake in that debate for press tours ever after. Kerger cited this month’s Season 4 debut audience — 10.2 million viewers, which was a 22% jump compared to the Season 3 opener (7.9 million), which itself had been a leap from the series Season 2 launch crowd of 4.2 mil. Downton is PBS’ highest rated drama ever. “It’s become a bit of tradition after the holidays to come together to watch Downton,” Kerger said happily. “The audience build over the years…argues to keep the January time frame,” she said. And, of course, a fall launch coinciding with the UK’s Downton season would put it in the teeth of the commercial broadcast network’s fall-season rollout, which, she noted, TV critics in the room had criticized PBS for doing in the past. Not to mention that the series’ UK broadcaster determines its debut date not terribly long before it actually happens — no weeks and weeks of promotions, as is the norm in the U.S. PBS cannot upstage the show in the UK.
Sherlock, which debuted last night on PBS, was easier to move, so as to get it launched each season closer to its UK start, Kerger said. That’s because Sherlock is only three episodes per season. And, she argued, Sherlock lacks Downton’s time-honored post-holiday viewing tradition. “With Sherlock we heard form a lot of fans anxious to have it a little closer to the UK broadcast,” she said. PBS, she insisted, does not “freeze our decisions in amber,” adding, “we thought we would give this a try.”
Vicious is an experiment for PBS, Kerger acknowledged. “We thought it was a great series, we’re looking at trying lots of new things and this looked like such a strong series on its own and thought, do it and run it Sunday nights and see how it does and continue to evolve the schedule.”