BBC America Delays Two DOCTOR WHO Eps Due to Memorial Day

WONDERCON 2011: DOCTOR WHO Panel

BBC America has decided to delay broadcast of episodes six and seven ("The Almost People" and "A Good Man Goes to War" respectively) due to expectations of low viewership over the Memorial Day weekend. The BBC will be broadcasting the episodes on May 28 and June 4; BBC America plans to broadcast episode six on June 4 and Episode 7, the final episode of the semi-season, on June 11. In its stead, BBC America has scheduled a mini-marathon of the current season's episodes for the 28th.

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally slow for television viewership; as the traditional first weekend of the summer, many people are engaged in outdoor activities. TV networks usually program re-runs for the weekend, not wanting to "waste" a new episode of their series on the smaller audience. The UK broadcasts have been pre-empted as well on occasion, including for the Eurovision song contest in past years, so the practice is not unheard of.

Doctor Who has greatly benefited from "time-shifted" viewership this season. The premiere episode, "The Impossible Astronaut" reportedly set the record for the most recorded TV episode of all time, as reported by the Doctor Who News Page. Once corrected viewership numbers were collected, ratings for the episodes more than doubled, from 4.11 million "live" viewers to 8.86 million once DVR users were included. This pattern has followed through to later episodes of the series. US ratings do not officially include DVR and other time-shifted processes like iTunes where season 6.1 is currently #7 on their season chart as of yet, but the data on such viewing patterns is gaining interest. Like the UK, they release "Overnight" ratings (live viewers only) and "Live Plus Seven" totals later.  BBC America has also seen increased viewership for the show, both like and via DVR. The Impossible Astronaut drew 1.3 million live viewers, with an additional half-million added once the DVR totals were included. 

This season is also notable for being the first time the show is being regularly run in the US the same day as the UK broadcast. In the 80s when PBS was the primary viewing source of he show (and a fundraising powerhouse) the US originally got the show months behind the UK broadcasts. There were a couple of exceptions, however, like in 1983, when the twentieth anniversary episode The Five Doctors ran, it was shown in the US two days BEFORE it was shown in the UK. years later, the US-Produced TV-movie starring Paul McGann premiered here before it was shown in the UK. 

The increased publicity for the show in the US has certainly been a boon for its popularity - many members of the cast have appeared on US TV, including The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Meredith Viera of the Today Show visited the Doctor Who set and filmed a tantalizing cameo for the final episode of the series, reporting on "Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill returned to the Buckingham senate on his personal mammoth." BBC America has invested in the series, listed as a co-producer of the new season. Those extra resources allowed the series to film in America for the first time, and make sure the budget could meet Neil Gaiman's imagination in his episode The Doctor's Wife.

Fans have begun making their opinion known about the move - Who news sites are running the information as "new" news, although the shift was scheduled well ahead of time. Posts are filling the BBC America Facebook page as well. Americans don't do "wait" well. 

The question remains; exactly how much has the show benefited from the same-day broadcast schedule? With a week's delay, American fans will have to resist temptation to read spoilers and reviews of the episodes, or even explore the seedy underbelly of the Internet for...alternate data sources. Will that behavior affect the US ratings more than broadcasting the episode on a weekend so many people are away would? We shall know soon.

On the bright side, the popularity of the show has resulted in an increased web presence as well. BBC America has been running an interactive trivia game, Trivia Traveler, which allows players to win prizes by visiting websites featuring Who-related articles (including, well...modesty forbids) and finding answers to trivia questions. And on the official BBC Doctor Who website, under the radar entirely, an Alternate Reality Game is running inside the episodes' pages. Click on "Episodes", select an episode that's broadcast, and click the "Fourth Dimension" tab. You'll see a short article with background information on the episode...but if you pay attention, you'll notice some of the words are in italics. Reading just those words reveals a message. In the episode for The Doctor's Wife, the message tells you to click the last period of the article. Doing so brings up a short distress message from The Doctor, asking for your help in some upcoming adventure. Quite a nice little easter egg.

The BBC has also gotten The Doctor on Twitter. Follow @DoctorWho_BBC for exclusive info and website updates from the BBC itself. While some of the website's videos are region blocked (you can't watch full episodes if you're not in the UK, for example) there's a steady stream of interviews, short features and more, all worth checking out.

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