Doctor Who, Sherlock and now Downton Abbey – why should America see footage of British shows first?

A trailer for Downton Abbey's long awaited fourth series has been shown to US critics but is still unavailable over here...


Just a fortnight ago, American Doctor Who fans at San Diego’s Comic-Con were treated to a first look at a chunky trailer for the 50th anniversary special, while British fans back home were left frustrated and angry (and, crucially, still haven’t seen it).


Comic-Con also got exclusive access to the first raw footage from series three of Sherlock which co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were adamant would never surface online.

And last night, delegates at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverley Hills were treated to unseen footage from the new series of Downton Abbey – for the second year in a row.

America has taken the Crawley family to their hearts, with Lord Grantham and co tapping into the stateside obsession with all things prim, proper and preened, and it’s terrific that British shows are capable of generating such passionate fan bases across the globe. It’s not their affection for Downton that I have a problem with – but why should American critics be entitled to see the first footage of a series home-grown in Britain?

Bar Shirley Maclaine, Elizabeth McGovern and Paul Giamatti, all the cast are British. They film in Britain at Highclere Castle and Ealing Studios. The episodes are scripted by Julian Fellowes, a celebrated British actor, writer and director. And, most importantly, British fans were the very first to take the Crawley family to their hearts. We rightly feel a sense of ownership towards a show that has been made in Britain, through and through. 

Likewise with Doctor Who. When Steven Moffat chose to air his Comic-Con trailer there was uproar amongst the show’s loyal British fanbase who justifiably pointed out that licence fee payers no longer had the sense of entitlement they deserved.

Both Doctor Who and Sherlock are gunning for stakes in a lucrative American market, an understandable strategy for BBC bosses, but their recent decisions are wounding viewers back home. And besides, Downton Abbey already enjoys an enormous American following. Any pretence that last night’s season four trailer was designed to grow that audience is surely unfounded, so why have Julian Fellowes and his team paid no heed to the Comic-Con backlash, especially considering that series four doesn’t air in the US until January 2014? 

Here in the UK, we can look forward to new episodes from early autumn, with our critics getting their chance to see the series four opener on Tuesday. But the point remains: British shows found their home in Britain and their loyal fans don’t deserve to be overlooked in favour of our money-spinning American cousins.