PBS is once again enjoying a budget surplus, thanks in part to the continuing success of Masterpiece’s hit British costume drama Downton Abbey. PBS Chief Financial Officer Barbara Landes told the board’s finance committee Monday that net income for fiscal 2014 totaled $30.7 million. This year, $10.4 million of that total is a one-time windfall due to the sale of PBS’s 15 percent equity share in the kids’ cable network Sprout. NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group acquired full ownership of Sprout, formerly called PBS Kids Sprout, in November 2013. PBS operations generated $20.3 million, thanks to better than expected returns on short-term investments, revenue-generating activities such as online sponsorship and mobile apps, and lower operating expenses, according to Landes.
Sherlock: His Last Vow won four of the eight Creative Arts Emmys awarded to PBS programs by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences during the Aug. 17 Primetime Emmy gala celebrating technical achievement. Sherlock, a BBC production that aired on WGBH’s Masterpiece, picked up its four wins in the miniseries or movie categories. Editor Yan Miles won for outstanding single-camera picture editing for a miniseries or movie, and Director of Photography Neville Kidd won the Emmy for cinematography in a miniseries or movie. The detective drama also won awards for sound editing, with statuettes given to supervising sound editor Doug Sinclair; sound editors Stuart McCowan, Jon Joyce and Paul McFadden; Foley editor William Everett; and Foley artist Sue Harding.
• A publicity photo from the fifth season of Downton Abbey made the rounds on the Internet for all the wrong reasons. The shot of stars Hugh Bonneville and Laura Carmichael featured an anachronistic plastic water bottle perched on a mantle. Producer ITV has since removed the shot from its press site, according to the BBC, and it’s also vanished from PBS’s pressroom. “You had one job, guys. One job,” Buzzfeed wrote.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — The success of Downton Abbey, whose fifth season has been set for Jan. 4, has created a novel problem for PBS: too many programs to fit into the Sunday-night slot occupied by Masterpiece. It’s possible that PBS might schedule some of the excess series at another hour or on another day. But there are no plans to do so for now, according to Masterpiece Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton.
The stars of Downton Abbey aren’t the only luminaries whom journalists will chat with during PBS’s portion of the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour today and Wednesday. Other big names at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., include rapper and songwriter Nas, director Spike Lee, Oscar winner Geena Davis, actor Nathan Lane and television legend Dick Cavett. The twice-yearly tour is a chance for broadcasters to woo more than 200 reporters with news of their upcoming schedules, deploying sizzle reels, high-profile appearances, question-and-answer sessions and, of course, food and drinks. PBS President Paula Kerger will greet journalists during her executive session at 10 a.m. Pacific time. Later today, the press conference for Season 5 of Downton Abbey, PBS’s blockbuster series on Masterpiece, will feature Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) and Tom Branson (Allen Leech), as well as Executive Producer Gareth Neame and Masterpiece’s Rebecca Eaton.
Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes has weighed in on PBS’s decision to delay airing the Masterpiece megahit for months after each season premieres in Britain. And as his countryfolk might say, he is cheesed off. “I want to have simultaneous transmission in America and Britain,” he tells the Telegraph of London. “The difficulty that we have is that people are discussing the series as it happens online before America’s seen it and on the internet we’re all in the same company. It’s madness.”
Then he adds: “It’s what I’d like, but who cares what I think?”
Scheduling Downton is a tricky subject for PBS. The blockbuster costume drama has always premiered in January on PBS, two months after the British airing.
PBS’s fiscal year 2015 draft budget includes the launch of a Membership Video on Demand service that will generate revenue by drawing on the network’s expansive library of content. MVOD members will get exclusive access to on-demand PBS videos, according to a budget document acquired by Current. “This is a critical product to help stations drive membership of the growing digital audience,” it said. The service will be integrated with PBS’s COVE video platform, and the public broadcaster anticipates hiring additional staff for the project. The budget proposal, now awaiting comment from stations, also requests a 2.5 percent increase in assessments from stations.
Episode four of the new season of Portlandia, starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, will feature A Prairie Home Companion tailgating. The sketch is also being spun off into a series of four webisodes, which can be viewed online before the season premiere. Season four of Portlandia premieres Feb. 27 at 10 p.m. on the Independent Film Channel. If an avid blogger can’t leave a comment on your website, he’ll write about it. That’s what tech-savvy journalist Doc Searls did when he encountered issues with a story from WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.
PBS is in “the final stages” of hiring a new executive to improve public TV fundraising efforts at both the local and national levels, President Paula Kerger announced during the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif., Monday.
A Downton Abbey pledge show from PBS was the top fundraiser by far for December public television drives, but repeats of the hit Brit drama also possibly cut into station time to raise even more money on the air.
The much-anticipated fourth season premiere of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic drew a massive 10.2 million viewers on Sunday, good enough to make the two-hour episode the highest rated drama premiere in PBS history, according to PBS.
PBS is pairing two Masterpiece favorites on Sunday nights: the upcoming third season of its hit Sherlock and ratings blockbuster Downton Abbey, the network announced today. “We continue to execute on our programming strategy to focus on our key genres, build on our night-by-night schedule, and develop new brand-defining content that sets PBS apart in the changing media landscape,” PBS program chief Beth Hoppe told member station executives in an email today. PBS also announced that its 2012–13 primetime programming ratings increased 7 percent over last season, elevating the network to No. 8 among all broadcast and cable outlets from its previous rank of No. 11.
American Masters and Downton Abbey led the opening round of the annual Primetime Emmys Sept. 15 by claiming three Creative Arts Emmys for PBS. American Masters, a production of New York’s WNET, topped the category for outstanding documentary or nonfiction series. Credit for the Emmy went to Susan Lacy, executive producer; Julie Sacks, supervising producer; Prudence Glass, series producer; and Jessica Levin, producer. The Emmy for direction in nonfiction programming was awarded to Robert Trachtenberg for his direction of the American Masters biography “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise.”
The fourth season of Downton Abbey, launching in January on Masterpiece, will bring an influx of related merchandise. Soon fans will be able to create a quilt with Downton fabric, drape themselves in Downton jewelry, deck their halls with Downton Christmas ornaments and toast their favorite program with Downton wine as products roll out in anticipation of the premiere. “Our licensing program includes a two-pronged approach,” said Carole Postal, a co-president of Knockout Licensing in New York City, which is managing Downton product licensing in the U.S. and Canada. “Aspirational products are for those who love the elegant period look and feel of the show, and fan-based products are for those who want to show and share their enthusiasm for the characters, the writing and everything else about the series.”
Carnival Films, part of NBCUniversal, owns the intellectual-property rights to the Edwardian costume drama, which has been a huge ratings and critical hit for PBS. Executive Producer Gareth Neame told The Associated Press that Downton merchandise has been rolling out slowly.
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — PBS President Paula Kerger called for local public TV stations and PBS to move beyond their reputations as a “dysfunctional family” to embrace “the power of a collective system” to strengthen their public service. In a keynote speech opening this year’s PBS Annual Meeting, Kerger said public television has reached an important moment in its history — one that she considers to be “the most important moment of my tenure” as PBS president. Kerger pointed to the outpouring of support for public TV when its federal funding came under attack during the fall presidential elections and the international attention and praise that accrued to PBS and stations following the blockbuster Masterpiece Classic hit Downton Abbey. “We have the potential to accomplish great things,” Kerger said.