Did NBC Blow It With a Show That’s Now One of TV’s Big Success Stories?

Mar 12, 2012  •  Post A Comment

NBC, which desperately needs a hit, apparently let one slip through its hands, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The story reports: “NBC passed on current cultural favorite ‘Downton Abbey,’ produced by NBCUniversal’s Carnival Films studio in London, believing that American audiences wouldn’t have the appetite for a very British historical drama set in a country manor in Edwardian England.

“Instead, ‘Downton Abbey’ found a grateful home on public television, as part of the ‘Masterpiece’ lineup. Spoofed on ‘Saturday Night Live’ this year and rated No. 2 nationally at 9 p.m. Feb. 5, the night of the Super Bowl (aired by NBC), ‘Downton’ has been a stunning success for PBS.”

The show’s season finale, televised Feb. 19, attracted a 3.5 national Nielsen rating and 5.4 million total viewers, a huge hit by PBS standards. It was the highest-rated PBS broadcast since the September 2009 debut of Ken Burns’ “National Parks” documentary series, the story notes.

Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media, said of NBC: "They may have second thoughts about letting it go to PBS." While the audience for the show may not be huge by network standards, Adgate notes that the series "gets a lot of critical acclaim, so it’s a prestigious show."

Given the beating NBC has been taking in the ratings for the past few seasons, anything that might boost its reputation could only help. Despite recent gains thanks to the Super Bowl and “The Voice,” the network “still has big holes to patch,” the story notes.

The report adds: “An NBC official said last week that the network had been delighted at the success of Downton Abbey for its sister company and that the decision not to air the show in the United States was made under a previous NBC administration.”


  1. NBC made the correct decision. The show does great on PBS, where audience size is already minuscule. It’s easy to look successful on PBS.

  2. Nothing should surprize any one NBC never know what the hell to do!! they are the Nobody Cares Netwok hope the would just go down already!!

  3. The show is a favorite on PBS.
    PBS’s highest rated show would be cancelled in a heartbeat due to low ratings on one of the regular networks.
    So in short, Downton would only have lasted a week or two on NBC and TV Week and other trade rags would be showcasing it as an example of how NBC’s programming team “just doesn’t get it.”

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