Lisa de Moraes
Lisa de Moraes
The TV Column

PBS sacks Fred Willard amid funding threat, prepares for new ‘Downton Abbey’ season

Nick Briggs/AP - In this image released by PBS, Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, left, and Hugh Boneville as Lord Grantham are shown in a scene from the second season on “Downton Abbey,” a drama about life in an English country estate.

Beverly hills, calif.

PBS sacked Fred Willard as narrator of its new flea-market competition series, “Market Warriors,” less than 24 hours after his arrest, because the programming service was afraid his “unfortunate circumstances” would become a “distraction” and it needed to move quickly, PBS chief Paula Kerger told television critics on the opening day of Summer TV Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

More from Lisa de Moraes

Pulitzer Prize winner, Peabody recipient, Medal of Freedom honoree -- Lisa de Moraes is none of these, but she is an authority on the bad direction, over-acting, and muddled plot lines being played out in the TV industry's executive suites.

Archive

(Frederick M. Brown/GETTY IMAGES) - Actors Hugh Bonneville, left, and Elizabeth McGovern speak onstage at the Masterpiece Classic “Downtown Abbey, Season 3” panel during day one of the PBS portion of the 2012 Summer TCA Tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Kerger bravely noted that federal funding for PBS had again come under attack in Congress, the same week the Hollywood TV industry’s academy showered PBS with 58 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, behind only HBO and CBS.

House Republicans last week unveiled legislation to cut federal funding for public television — Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, called it an “extremely partisan proposal.” Kerger warned that PBS stations in underserved areas of the country “will go dark” if federal funding is whacked, as proposed. The de-funding proposal from the Appropriations Committee may be debated next week, she said, adding that she doubts the budget issue will be resolved until after the presidential election.

In case you missed this other important story in the heat of Emmy nominations Thursday morning, Willard, 72, was arrested late Wednesday night at the adult Tiki Theater in Hollywood. Willard, best known as the announcer in the dog-show flick “Best in Show,” and whose credits include “This Is Spinal Tap” and “Waiting for Guffman,” will not be charged.

But PBS found Willard guilty of causing a potential “distraction,” and by midday Thursday the network had yanked him off “Market Warriors,” which follows expert antique shoppers as they scour flea markets around the country to buy things they hope to turn into big profits at auction. “Antiques Roadshow” host Mark Walberg is re-recording the narration on episodes already produced.

“It actually links the two shows together,” Kerger said brightly of Walberg stepping in.

“Market Warriors” was conceived as a companion to the American version of Brit hit “Antiques Roadshow,” which is PBS’s highest-rated program, clocking around 10 million viewers each week.

‘Downton Abbey’ gives Season 3 sneak preview

Television critics attending the press tour got a sneak peek at the next season of PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” in which Maggie Smith and new cast member Shirley MacLaine hiss politely at each other (what else would you expect?).

“When I’m with her, I’m reminded of the virtues of the English,” purrs Maggie Smith as Violet, the dowager countess, of MacLaine’s Martha Levinson, the rich mother of Lord Grantham’s rich American wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern).

“But isn’t she American?” Matthew Crawley asks.

“Exactly,” coos Violet.

Perhaps more titillating: This season the obscenely wealthy Crawley family has lost its fortune!

“Has some of my fortune also been lost?” asks Cora.

“Almost all,” weeps Lord Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville.

Oh well, says Cora — or words to that effect — let’s make sure this upcoming family wedding is a humdinger and one last bash they’ll remember.

They hug.

But wait! Engaged couple Matthew and Mary (Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery) are seen fighting!

“Downton Abbey,” which snagged 16 Emmy nominations on Thursday, including one for best drama series, is so very popular because while “it looks like a classic period TV drama from the ’70s, and everyone’s in bustles and ringing for lunch,” it’s written more along the lines of “The West Wing” and “ER,” creator Julian Fellowes told critics attending the tour.

By that, he meant, “with lots of plots going on — big plots, little plots, funny plots, sad plots — so it’s all sort of plotted together,” Fellowes explained. “Seems to be right for the energy of now. Seems to meet what the audience wants.”

Fellowes, meanwhile, took umbrage when someone brought up the subject of period mistakes people have claimed were made on “Downton,” particularly mistakes of language.

“Well, the interesting thing about this is that when these people complain, the newspapers always assume that the complainant is correct and the show is wrong,” Fellowes said.

In fact, Fellowes assured the “newspapers” in the ballroom, in “more or less every single case the complainant was incorrect.” He did not explain what “more or less every single case” means.

Colloquial language is much older than a lot of people think, he said, insisting this “constant surprising of the audience,” language-wise, was deliberate and is intended to make us all realize “that these people are much more like us, are much more normal, and there isn’t a sort of place called Period, where these strange people live in funny clothes.”

 
Read what others are saying