August 08, 2013 7:04pm PT by Tim Goodman
Dreaming of a More Modern PBS
It should surprise no one that PBS loves its Downton Abbey. The public broadcaster is like an overly proud parent posting pictures on Facebook and talking about it incessantly.
But here's a thought: What if PBS did Broadchurch? What if PBS did Orphan Black? Or, to be it another way, what if PBS got really aggressive about being more contemporary? That might be fun.
When PBS closed out the Television Critics Association summer press tour, it was -- as usual -- with a bevy of series, specials, documentaries and performances that ended up being exponentially more interesting than they first looked on paper.
It's the PBS way.
The public broadcaster is always a welcome addition to press tour because even though on the surface it seems like it's our bi-annual dose of eating our vegetables, much of what PBS presents ends up being worth covering. And also, unlike some networks, it doesn't bitch about Twitter usage. So much for calling PBS elderly.
But there's no question that PBS could find a lot more to crow about and more to bask in the glow about than just Downton Abbey.
It already has the acclaimed, modernized Sherlock and scattered bit of other series that keep up the periodic reminders of its relevance. But a more focused approach to contemporary dramas might not be such a bad idea. And here's why:
1. That demographic has to come down sometime, right? Perhaps a sustained effort at providing the kind of fare people are watching on AMC or BBC America (sorry to bring that up) or even Showtime and HBO might ratchet down the gray. Not everything has to be a costume drama.
2. You love the attention and you know it, PBS. The glow of Downton Abbey is always in your eyes. You like being in the zeitgeist. You like being Emmy-nominated and a trending topic on the world wide social water cooler. More modern shows like Sherlock (or those proposed above - which of course you can't have, so stop dreaming) would go a long way to keeping the buzz up.
3. Even though you don't currently think so (as indicated by responses at TCA), there's going to be an end-date on this whole "posh porn" thing that even diehard Downton Abbey fans will bump-up against at some point. Well, OK, maybe not the diehard fans -- they'll stay as vintage as you want them to be. But when we're talking large-scale numbers of viewers, there will be a fall off without a doubt. That's just how television works. Plotting now to replace Downton with something that might approach the same relevance and audience is essential. Or at least smart planning. With the right co-sponsorship deal or redirection of assets into a more modern direction, you can find another top-shelf, Broadchurch-like acquisition. Maybe then you'll come to future versions of the TCA and gloat some more about staying in the game.
In the meantime, we will all dutifully eat our veggies and wait for the return of the servants and the served, no matter how long in the tooth they may be getting.