Howl! Are Men Really Watching Downton Abbey? Really?

PBS’ Downton Abbey has been a boon for a network known more for “Sesame Street” and pledge drives than for arresting dramas, and with the British series’ season finale coming up this weekend, it’s no surprise that journalists have been looking for new ways and angles to feature the show.

Case in point: Molly Eichel’s recent piece in the Daily News, which asks the question: Are men watching Downton Abbey? Her answer: Yes — but her research into the question falls far short of supporting the 724-word article that follows.

Eichel makes a point in her article that Downton Abbey is primarily viewed as a show that only women watch. A quick Google search helps support that belief, based on n a quote in a recent Vanity Fair interview from Masterpiece’s Rebecca Eaton: “I think the last episode of series one had the biggest audience we’ve had in 20 years, and a million people saw it online—streamed it—which is the largest number ever for that. The audience for women—the younger [demographic]—was 50 percent higher than anything we had done previous to that.” That alone makes basic research into the question of male viewers of the show a viable and potentially interesting exercise.

The problem: Eichel has no facts. She states as much early on in the second graf: “PBS doesn’t have specific demographic numbers and while the network knows the show skews female, they anecdotally acknowledge that men are watching.” Does this sound like a premise that can – or should – support a 724-word article like the one Eichel’s produces?

She continues in the third graf: “The series’ availability via Netflix and iTunes has certainly helped its cause with men, as it has with the audience at large.” Do you have any numbers from Apple or from Netflix on that?

Kudos do go to Eichel for tracking down seven local males to talk about the aspects of the show they enjoy. But in the end, the whole article feels a bit unnecessary. Take any well-known TV show that skews toward one demographic, and you should be able to find that – surprise! – people of other demographics are also watching. Did seven local women watch and enjoy “The Sopranos” when it was airing? Probably – but that doesn’t mean an entire article should be written about it.

Eichel would have done better had she had some hard facts, either along national or local demographics. If she still decided to go the anecdotal route, she should have reached out to someone at PBS or at Downton Abbey for even some tangential information. Does the show’s Facebook page have a lot of posts from men? Do they receive emails or fan letters from men? What about the actors on the show – do they find that men recognize them and say that they enjoy the show? As it stands, the piece right now reads as “Seven local men enjoy Downton Abbey” – and that does not by any means answer the question that the article posits.

Text by Dan Wisniewski. Image courtesy of PBS.

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