Ah, gentle readers.... do any of you remember Elmo? That sweet scruffy red fan of tickles and resident of Sesame Street? Well Elmo, along with his Muppet pals, have recently been snapped up by HBO in an acquisition that will see the premium cable channel broadcast brand new episodes of Sesame Street nine months before they air for free on PBS.
So a much loved series that was created to be distributed for free, to bring all children to school reading/math levels, and to be a great leveler of the American culture, is now a for-profit HBO product. It seems that nothing is sacred, and it's a reminder that all television shows must move with the times if they are to continue in today's competitive marketplace.
In fact not just television shows but also broadcast corporations are changing thanks to the constantly evolving way we are consuming our television. Indeed the Sesame Street acquisition is said to be part of HBO's tactic in competing against platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime.
It got me thinking, if this can happen to a cherished American institution, then could a similar situation arise for much loved British one?
Could Doctor Who be next?
Call out... scream at me, but there is potential for a parallel scenario to play out here.
Cash-strapped BBC would still own Doctor Who and would oversee the production in an attempt to keep it pure Whovian bliss, but they'd license the series to a premium pay-to-view platform who would pay a hefty sum to be able to produce and broadcast the first run episodes six... nine... twelve months in advance - with them eventually airing on BBC One for free.
I know that Brits often want to bury their collective heads in the sand - "keeping calm and carrying on" and such, but Doctor Who is a series all about change, constantly evolving with every subsequent Doctor and production team. This scenario could very easily be the next step in its evolution.
And it wouldn't be unheard of for the Who franchise either. In 2010 a similar situation arose with the joint BBC / Starz production of Torchwood: Miracle Day. The US premium network had the first run, with, in this case, the show airing on the BBC six days later. Overall the series was considered a failed experiment by many, but maybe it was just a bit too early? After all the marketplace has certainly changed since 2010, and with the BBC tightening its budgets for all its productions, could there be a premium for-profit organization looking to take on Gallifrey's most infamous son?
I don't have a contract to link to this op/ed, I don't expect us to know until fait accompli (just like with PBS/HBO Sesame Street deal), but it is possible, even probable, that some production company... be it Netflix, Showtime, HBO, one we've never even heard of... would jump at the chance of taking on Doctor Who in a similar deal like this. Who knows? Negotiating could even be going on now. Maybe that's why we're hearing that series 10 is in limbo?
We know Peter Capaldi has hinted that his tenure was going to be over "sooner rather than later" and it would make sense that a new Doctor would be cast for a move like this, and that there would be a post-regeneration introduction episode to draw in any new viewers who have not been following the series.
But how would an American producer sell the Doctor?
We've already seen this happen once with Paul McGann, he became the curly-locked glamorized template of a new Doctor. Maybe we'd stay in the vein of Tennant or Smith who also made the Doctor sexy. Wouldn't that make more sense when selling the show to an American audience, rather than the aged Grandpa style of Capaldi? Yes, I feel quite sure we would have a hot young Thirteenth Doctor joined by his (or her) equally compelling companion(s). Possibly even new adventures with Ten or Eleven as they are passing in space and time.
Before I'm accused of creating drama for salaciousness-sake, I am asking you to really think about Doctor Who first runs on premium television. Doesn't it seem like something that is destined to happen? How much longer can the BBC afford to make the series? As a corporation they are under scrutiny, under intense budgetary pressures, and forced to make cuts year after year. They are a corporation with a franchise like Doctor Who among their most expensive shows to produce, if not the most expensive - why wouldn't the BBC take a hefty licensing fee which they can put back into their other productions and balance the books?
Let's just go back to that Sesame Street deal. Even with the promised commitment to keeping the quality, I know the move to HBO will result in Elmo, Big Bird and pals being further commercialized. That would likely happen with Who too. And then, if it doesn't increase subscriptions... where does the show go? Stuck in limbo like Torchwood?
Think about it. Would we even recognize the next Doctor?
Perhaps it could be brilliant and the best thing ever, but even for the optimist that I am....
Risk-adverse, Stacy would not even enter the TARDIS in case it suddenly set to motion. Yet, gentle reader, she feels compelled to clarify that she writes opinion or editorial pieces. By using logic and reasoning, she always hopes to coherently provoke honest discourse.