Jim Britt did not want to tell his wife that Sunday’s episode of the super-hot PBS drama “Downton Abbey” will be on TV at the same time that the New England Patriots will be playing for the right to go to another Super Bowl.
He wanted to have a strategy in place first.
“I kept it to myself for a while. I’ve been strategizing. I think I’ve figured out that I can use the ‘picture-in-picture’ feature of the TV, and I’ll let her watch (‘Downton Abbey’) on the big screen,” said Britt, 45, of Cape Elizabeth. “Hopefully by the time it comes on, the Patriots will have their game well in hand.”
Britt’s wife, Gillian, confirmed Friday she had no idea that Tom Brady and “Downton” chauffeur Tom Branson would be competing for viewers Sunday.
But if she had known, her strategy would be different than her husband’s.
“I would have just assumed we wouldn’t watch the Patriots,” said Gillian Britt, who runs the gBritt PR firm with her husband.
All across Maine on Sunday night, couples, families and individual viewers will be struggling with whether to watch football or footmen, battles over the pigskin or battles over pride, the glory of an overtime win or the glory of opulence on parade.
That’s because a convergence of pop culture phenomena will occur Sunday night. First, at 6:30 p.m. on CBS, you’ve got the Patriots – much of New England’s favorite pro football team and arguably the best pro football team of the past decade – playing in the AFC Championship game for a spot in the Super Bowl.
Then at some point late in the game, at 9 p.m., a brand new episode of “Downton Abbey” will air on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. “Downton Abbey” is just about the biggest thing to come out of England since the Beatles: a smart, melodramatic period piece that has captured the imagination of American TV viewers like few shows before it.
“Downton Abbey” is a costume drama set in the fictional British country estate of Downton Abbey during the reign of King George V. The show follows the aristocratic Crawley family, headed by the Earl and Countess of Grantham, and their servants against the backdrop of historically important events, such as the sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of World War I and the Spanish influenza pandemic.
It’s a show of epic scope, and Sunday it’ll be competing for viewers with a football team hoping for an epic season.
The viewing dilemma has people all over Maine strategizing like the Britts, seeing if their spare TV is still working, checking to see if they signed up for DVR service.
Anything to make sure they don’t miss their beloved Pats, or their beloved Crawleys.
Fans are also strategizing to make sure they have the best view of whatever battle matters more to them — Pats versus the Baltimore Ravens or the rapier wit of the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) versus all in her path.
Julie Otte of Falmouth, for instance, has already decided that since “I rule in this house” she will watch “Downton Abbey” on the large HD TV in the living room. She will then relegate her teenage son and husband to the den, to watch Brady scramble over the confines of a 19-inch screen.
“It’s the great acting, Maggie Smith’s snide comments, all the clothes,” said Otte, when asked why she likes the show so much.
In some cases, the conflict over what to watch Sunday night is not just husband versus wife, or parents versus kids.
The “Downton”/Pats dilemma for some is internal.
“I’m really in conflict with myself over this,” said Karl Turner, 70, a retiree and former Republican state senator from Cumberland. “When I saw the football game was starting at 6:30 p.m., I thought, ‘How am I going to watch them both?'”
Turner is a volunteer board member at MPBN, so he decided to call the network and ask what he could do. He was relieved to find out that Sunday’s episode of “Downton Abbey” will be available on the network’s website after midnight Sunday, barring any technical difficulties.
Lots of people in conflict have been calling MPBN, ever since the network Thursday afternoon launched its “Downton Abbey” Football Conflict Support Line — 330-4549. The hotline was MPBN’s lighthearted response to folks wondering if they could watch “Downton Abbey” in some way, at some time, that wouldn’t conflict with the Patriots.
The phone line features an automated voice talking about “conflict” and “crisis” and then telling folks about the online option beginning Monday, and a re-airing of the episode on MPBN TV on Jan. 27 at 8 p.m.
The phone line was activated around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, and less than 24 hours later more than 300 calls had been logged.
“And it’s not simply Tom Brady and Wes Welker versus Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary in households that we have heard from,” said Cory Morrissey, director of marketing and public relations for MPBN. “The line between who is watching which program is really blurred here as fans of the show are, not surprisingly, also New England fans and vice-versa. They are definitely torn.”
Clyde Williams, a retiree living in Hallowell, said he and his wife are both big football fans, so he’s pretty sure they’ll watch the Patriots game until it’s done. But his wife is also a “Downton Abbey” fan, so she might watch that the next day online.
Then again, Williams said, he might switch the TV to “Downton Abbey” Sunday if the Patriots end up frustrating him, which he says they often do. He’s been a fan since the team was created, but he says he has a hard time watching the offense stall out, or watching poor play.
“For a fan like me, a good game is when they take an early lead and hold it, or blow the other team out,” said Williams.
Like Williams, the Britts only have one TV, and they say they don’t remember ever needing to use the “picture-in-picture” feature before.
Jim Britt grew up in Ohio, where he was a Cleveland Browns fan, and moved here around 1994, just when the Patriots were getting good after years of mediocrity. He quickly adopted the team, so he’s pretty psyched for Sunday’s game and a potential shot at a Super Bowl title.
As for Gillian Britt, she’s still a little skeptical that “picture-in-picture” technology will let them both have the viewing experience they truly want.
“We never use it. I don’t even know how it works,” she said. “Maybe we can switch over to the football game when things slow down on ‘Downton Abbey.’ Maybe when Maggie Smith isn’t in a scene.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: