I was so angry, so disappointed last Saturday when word came out that the second episode of the third and last season of The Musketeers was cancelled and postponed, I could have sat down and written a week-long rant about why exactly this angered me so much. I simply didn’t have the time. Over the last few days I thought my anger had subsided but when I finally sat down today to do a bit of research, it all came back – even though it’s now only two more days until we (hopefully) get the second episode on our screens. It’s the last season of the Musketeers, but fans already were angry before it even started airing. It’s a British series, it’s a BBC series – still UK viewers are among the last English-speaking viewers who actually get to see the show. Canada got it in April, and it has been available for streaming both on Netflix and Hulu in Latin America and the US. The reason why it was so late to air in the UK was said to be that the BBC wanted to wait for a time when fans could get uninterrupted viewing – meaning all 10 episodes could be aired in the course of 10 weeks, Saturday after Saturday after Saturday.
What then happened last Saturday? The simplest answer would be: Muhammad Ali died. The BBC thus needed to change their schedule to create a slot to air their tribute to the boxer. All good and I at least would have even been (more or less) understanding, had they showed said tribute at 8.30 pm when the Musketeers should have been on. But they didn’t – instead, they aired the tribute at 9.30 pm and moved „Casualty“ forward totThe Musketeers‘ 8.30 slot. That means basically, the Musketeers didn’t get cancelled and post-poned for a Muhammad Ali tribute but for a „Casualty“ episode. A show that’s been running for years, that is currently in its 30th season. God forbid, „Casualty“ fans should have to live through a Saturday evening with no episode of their beloved show.
There is, of course, also a back story to this. The Musketeers seem to have been the BBC’s un-loved step-child since almost the beginning. The Saturday slot is now the third one that this show occupies – its first season was aired on Sunday nights, the second one on Friday nights. Especially on Fridays, it often got moved and episodes post-poned, quite often for Match Of The Day to be aired instead. It is true that viewing numbers have been going down almost constantly since the first episode – but to be honest they were best during Season 1 when the show was on on Sundays and they did not once rise above 5 millions when it was shown on Fridays during Season 2 and frequently post-poned. (Not to mention at all that never was any clear reason given as to why the BBC has not commissioned a fourth season. And lastly, there must have been quite some tension between the show’s writers and producers and the BBC, the latter moving the show into the pre-watershed slot at 8.30 pm after the team had written and actually filmed scenes that „upped the gore factor“ to justify its former 9 pm slot.)
I couldn’t help but think about this relationship between the show and BBC One several times in the last few days. And it occurred to me that BBC One didn’t do much to advertise their show and to get people to tune in to the Musketeers. Now I’m not saying there might not have been things in the way of advertising that I simply missed. But as an example, I’d like to point to BBC One’s twitter account and the series „Happy Valley“. There were many tweets, pictures and gifs – not daily but enough to constantly remind me when the next episode would be on.
I haven’t seen one single tweet by BBC One about the third Musketeer’s series so far. Yes, „Happy Valley“ had about twice as many viewers than the Musketeers have had. But surely that’s very bad PR work if you advertise more for those shows who already have high viewing numbers. Shouldn’t you advertise even more for products who don’t seem to be as popular (or maybe well-known) than others?
Coming back to last Saturday, I can only say that what BBC One gave us there was an example of how both scheduling a TV programme and doing PR work for a TV channel should not be done. I completely and fully understand and sympathise that changes have to be made and programmes have to be adapted in a case like the death of Muhammad Ali. But there are different ways of doing this and of communicating changes that have been made. First, BBC One managed to offend two groups of fans: Not only were the Musketeers‘ fans furious they didn’t get to see the second episode of the last season of their beloved show (and after having had to wait for it much longer than other English-speaking viewers, I’d like to add again). But I assume that quite a few „Casualty“ fans turned on their TV at 9.30 pm to find that their show had been moved forward and that they had actually missed it. Furthermore, I do believe that BBC One could have at least given an explanation as to why they deemed it more important to show „Casualty“ than The Musketeers. Just one or two sentences would already have been enough.
Lastly, just one more thing. I do like the BBC – normally – and often prefer it to many of our German channels. However, I do believe that ARD and ZDF (which are two German channels more or less financed by the German public through the „Rundfunkgebühr“, license fee) would have been able first, to give an explanation that would have satisfied (most of) the fans and second, to maybe accomodate both series: Either by simply pushing everything to a later time and slipping the tribute show in on top or by showing the programme that would have to be cancelled online on their website at the time it would have been aired on TV. There wasn’t any such commitment to be seen by BBC One. Which is a pity, really, because commitment is what The Musketeers is all about: All for one and one for all. BBC One certainly didn’t act like that last Saturday. Let’s just hope we will be able to enjoy the rest of the season uninterrupted – it’s sad enough already that this is the last we will be seeing of this show on our screens.