Magazine article Variety

Following 'Abbey' Road

Magazine article Variety

Following 'Abbey' Road

Article excerpt


Before we say goodbye to the second edition of "Downton Abbey's" intoxicating delights, a quick question about the biggest hit PBS has produced in years: Could the British program's success reflect - or hasten - the broadening of America's somewhat parochial TV palate?

Clearly, the media landscape has become more global, as evidenced by shifting box office receipts regarding theatrical tentpoles. It's not uncommon now for returns from other territories to far surpass North America - a change that has grown more marked in recent years.

As has been noted, there are many international Englishlanguage performers - some using their natural accents, like Simon Cowell; others carefully hiding them, like "House's" Hugh Laurie and "The Mentalist's" Simon Baker - who rank among the biggest names in American television. Even so, scripted TV has flowed largely in one direction, with the U.S. providing a steady diet of programming to the world.

Although borders began to erode wìtjì a greater influx of reality-TV formats - series like "Survivor" and "American Idol," adapted from European concepts - resistance to scripted shows remained. Indeed, the prevailing strategy has been to create U.S. versions of programs, from Britain's "Skins" to Israel's "In Treatment" to Denmark's "The Killing."

Slowly, however, that's changing. Not only have U.S. networks begun acquiring more Canadian dramas - which, thanks to modest cultural differences, can pretty much hide their origins in plain sight - but there are far more English-language dramas from places like the U.K. and Australia that feature overt accents and are finding a home in the U.S.

So is "Downton Abbey" - a British period piece that has become an obsession for millions - an anomaly, or a harbinger of things to come?

"Masterpiece" exec producer Rebecca Eaton calls the "Downton" phenomenon a "perfect storm," highlighting the growth of social media as a means of spreading the word about programs, as well as ancillary platforms such as Netflix, which enable people to view such serialized fare in concentrated bursts.

According to Eaton, "Downton's" success illustrates "a confluence of the way people consume television and the way they talk to each about what they're consuming." And while she notes "Masterpiece" has offered no shortage of great British drama through the years, the multiplier effect of those voices creating a digital water cooler and the freedom to view the program after its initial telecast "boosted it into another orbit from the one in which our shows usually reside. …

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