Here be spoilers!
Due to the nature of this article, it contains spoilers. I decided that any show that has aired in the US until today’s date is fair game for discussion. If, however, you are spoiler phobic, open this article at your own risk.
On Sunday night, the worst kept secret ever finally aired on PBS. Downton Abbey’s Matthew Crawley is killed in a car accident immediately after his son is born. Even before the episode aired on Christmas night in the UK, Dan Stevens (who played Matthew) had made no secret of the fact that he was leaving the show when his contract expired at the end of the third season. I think a lot of people (the producers of the show included) thought he might return for an episode or two in season four. When he made it clear that he was done, he had to be written out.
I made the mistake of going onto Facebook Christmas night. My English friends were in a snit and I was spoiled then, even before the third series had begun over here. But, what happened next was fascinating. TVLine reported the spoiler (the first time I saw it in the US) and it was then immediately picked up by many of the other TV sites.
As a result, the print media made the assumption that everyone knew about the death and they got into the game. TV Guide wrote a whole article about the situation three or four weeks ago without mentioning anywhere that what they were reporting was a spoiler. If anyone watched Sunday’s episode and didn’t know how it would end, I would love to know how you avoided learning about it.
I had a similar experience last May. I was living in London, so to watch The Vampire Diaries in “real time,” I had to buy the show through iTunes who were excellent at uploading an episode immediately after it finished broadcasting on the West Coast. Excellent, that is, until the season finale. For whatever reason, there was a delay and it was three or four days before the episode uploaded. Every day, I would go onto the site to check that it was available and one day I read the top complaint. “I don’t know why everyone is so impatient for this episode. I’m sure by now everyone knows that Elena becomes a vampire.” I, for one, did not know; but luckily, the show was as good as if I hadn’t known.
As we speak, ABC has pulled 666 Park Avenue off its schedule, promising to air the final four episodes this summer. However, they are currently being shown in Australia and, as a result, are available online if you are willing to download illegally. As Nadim and I are the only two people still watching this show around here, I can hear you wondering who actually gives a damn. Even I don’t really -- it’s just another example.
Even something as little as East Coast vs. West Coast has raised its head. A couple of months ago, one of the cast members tweeted something about an episode of Castle while it was airing on the East Coast. The West Coast fans were, to put it mildly, less than pleased.
All of this begs the question, how long can different markets continue to air the same program, but months apart. In today’s world of Facebook, Twitter, more TV sites than you can shake a stick at, anything at all that shocks is going to get out. It is going to get out immediately and it is going to be broadcast worldwide.
It is inconceivable to imagine every English speaking network who wants to show a popular program coordinate schedules. And, even if they were able to do so and did so, how many of us watch a show live? My guess is that the vast majority of what we watch is either on our DVR or is streamed over the internet.
The other problem is timing. Using Thursday night as an example, I watch two shows that conflict at 8:00 and two that conflict at 10:00. I don’t watch any of these live; instead, I stream them when I want to watch them. If I choose to ignore my television for a couple of days and, I don’t know, read a book (gasp!), I have to be careful where I go on the internet to avoid spoiling the shows that I have yet to watch.
Certainly in today’s world of watching what we want when we want, there is always going to be the problem of spoiling. But, there is a big difference between a couple of days and months. TPTB at PBS explained that the reason they don’t air Downton Abbey in the US in the fall (which is when it airs for the rest of the world) is that they don’t want their shows to get lost in the noise of all the new shows airing at that time. I understand that reasoning for a new show, but not for a show that has an established audience the size of Downton.
So, what is the solution? I genuinely don’t know and I have thought a lot about it. Interestingly, a lot of the articles I have read about it don’t have a solution either. They just bemoan that it is happening.
What do you think? Is there a solution and, if so, what is it? Do you avoid spoilers or do you seek them out? If you avoid them, how do you do it? Discuss below.