Downton Abbey just finished airing its fourth season last night on ITV in Britain, which is significant for several reasons. First, today I learned that the show is not broadcast on the BBC, which I find to be baffling and an entirely unnecessary complication. Everyone knows that Britain has one television channel and that it is the BBC. There’s no need to have these confusions added to the mix. It’s so middle class.
Second, the show’s completion was immediately followed in the press by the announcement that it had been renewed for a fifth season, which came as little surprise to anyone since 9.6 million subjects (the don’t level up to citizens until they slay the queen) watched the show last night, which amounts to some 40% of people watching television in Britain at the time. Proportionately, that’s roughly twice the ratings that NCIS gets on a good night in America, which is really every night if you’ve got NCIS. Thinking of Downton Abbey as the British Super Bowl somehow makes absolute and perfect sense to me.
Third, I find it to be an international hate crime that Britain sits on this show for months before allowing PBS to broadcast it in America. I can only imagine that every year, PBS executives make the traditional vision quest to the British television palace housed underneath a remote mountain monastery in the Welsh Himalayas in order to make their humble gilded offerings. “We are but penniless state television executives like yourselves, please gift us with Downton!” They undoubtedly sob.
But the lords of British television are cruel, and have grown haughty upon their piles of Downton money. You can have it in January, they mock, or you could have it now if only you would genuflect to the Queen’s portrait, and burn this American flag… but the deacons of PBS are stubborn, proud Americans, and so we wait every year until January.