Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.

Ricky GervaisPBS president Paula Kerger said today that the pubcaster has considered the idea of synching the U.S. broadcast schedule of its hit series Downton Abbey with the earlier British schedule on ITV, but so far it has not found that such a change would best suit the American viewers (she added that in Britain the show airs with commercials; in the U.S. it does not). The idea, she told critics during a PBS session at TCA, has been to avoid pitting Downton against the glut of new fall programming on U.S. networks and cable channels. She compared the experience to watching the Olympics: “People knew the outcome but watched them every night,” she said.

A questioner pointed out that American viewers accept the Olympic broadcast schedule but find it “annoying.” “We’re not punishing our viewers,” Kerger responded with a laugh. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure we are putting the series in a place where the most people can find it.”

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Asked for her take on Downton Abbey’s formula for success, Kerger cited casting — in particular the “brilliant” choice of Maggie Smith “Can you imagine Downton Abbey without Maggie Smith?” she asked rhetorically. (She noted that casting is also a key to the success of another PBS hit, Sherlock). Kerger was quizzed about how casting changes on Downton might affect its continuing popularity: It has been announced that Dan Stevens will not return for a fourth season. While teasing that she would not provide plot spoilers, she said: “Casting evolves. I think with any series that runs over a period of some years, characters come in and out, actors have opportunities to do other things.” She said that losing characters could be offset by adding characters, such as Shirley MacLaine joining Downton for Season 3.

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