Traditions, Festivities and Finales: The Changing Role and Reception of the Downton Abbey Christmas Special

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Abstract

The popularity of Downton Abbey (2010- 2015), especially its international success, has fascinated and divided commentators and journalists. Subsequently a growing American audience, which culminated in record viewing figures for the fourth season, encouraged discussion of what the appeal of the show might be (PBS Press Release 2014). Importantly, the increased trans-Atlantic demand impacted upon the programme’s content and can be charted most obviously via the ‘Christmas specials’. These feature length episodes were first screened on Christmas Day in the UK and acted as a season finale for American viewers in February. The first was a hyperbole of Christmas past which was enthusiastically received by the British press. Romance in the snow, a ghost, and bustling festivities suited the 25 December screening, but was out-ofseason across the Atlantic and, as Derek Johnston has noted, the inclusion of a supernatural element struck some US reviewers as odd (Johnston 2015: 86). The subsequent specials have been less seasonally related, with the 2014 and 2015 episodes only returning to a Christmas setting at the end and, although strongly reliant on traditions and nostalgia, seem far more mindful of US scheduling. Interestingly, they have also gained less praise from the British press. This article will consider the shifting themes and tone of the Downton Abbey Christmas special and the British and American critical reception in order to explore the challenges of negotiating domestic and international appeal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-103
JournalJournal of Popular Television
Volume6
Issue number1
Early online date1 Mar 2018
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Mar 2018

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Keywords

  • Downton Abbey
  • Christmas
  • seasonalspecial
  • season finale
  • nostalgia
  • criticalreception
  • negotiation

Cite this

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abstract = "The popularity of Downton Abbey (2010- 2015), especially its international success, has fascinated and divided commentators and journalists. Subsequently a growing American audience, which culminated in record viewing figures for the fourth season, encouraged discussion of what the appeal of the show might be (PBS Press Release 2014). Importantly, the increased trans-Atlantic demand impacted upon the programme’s content and can be charted most obviously via the ‘Christmas specials’. These feature length episodes were first screened on Christmas Day in the UK and acted as a season finale for American viewers in February. The first was a hyperbole of Christmas past which was enthusiastically received by the British press. Romance in the snow, a ghost, and bustling festivities suited the 25 December screening, but was out-ofseason across the Atlantic and, as Derek Johnston has noted, the inclusion of a supernatural element struck some US reviewers as odd (Johnston 2015: 86). The subsequent specials have been less seasonally related, with the 2014 and 2015 episodes only returning to a Christmas setting at the end and, although strongly reliant on traditions and nostalgia, seem far more mindful of US scheduling. Interestingly, they have also gained less praise from the British press. This article will consider the shifting themes and tone of the Downton Abbey Christmas special and the British and American critical reception in order to explore the challenges of negotiating domestic and international appeal.",
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