TV Worth Blogging

This Acorn Falls a Little Bit Further from the Tree

A clash over streaming rights clouds the return of two favorite mysteries.
Foyle flanked by two gas-masked soldiers, pointing rifles at him.

Michael Kitchen as Foyle Credit: Courtesy of Bernard Walsh/Eleventh Hour/ITV for MASTERPIECE

Earlier this week, NPR’s Morning Edition presented a story about the new season of Foyle’s War, a British detective drama that has aired in the US as part of PBS’ Masterpiece since 2003. But these three stories—said to the be the final episodes—aren’t airing on WILL-TV…yet. (You will get to see them, but more on that in a moment.)

For the next few months, they’ll be available exclusively via the Acorn TV online streaming service. That’s because Acorn bought all rights to Foyle’s War and paid for the production of these last installments. It’s part of their bid to become, as their CEO said in the NPR piece, “the primary destination for British mystery and drama television in North America.”

Similarly, Acorn now also owns a controlling interest in Agatha Christie’s literary estate. And that led to an unusual situation last year, centered around the long-running series of Poirot adaptations starring David Suchet.

The final season of Poirot comprised five episodes, but only two of them aired in their traditional Masterpiece home. The remainder, including the finale “Curtain,” debuted on Acorn TV and were never part of PBS’ national schedule. According to an October article in the public broadcasting trade publication Current, that was due to a disagreement over streaming rights. Acorn naturally wanted to recoup their investment by using Hercule Poirot’s (40-year-old spoiler alert!) demise to entice new subscribers to Acorn TV; PBS wanted to offer it for free via their own video portal.

The only reason that you saw those Poirot mysteries on WILL-TV last November/December was that we purchased broadcast rights directly from Acorn. I was initially hesitant and frankly, more than a little annoyed to be paying extra for content that “should” have been part of Masterpiece, but I also felt that—as public TV was the home for Poirot for most of two decades—we had an obligation to bring these to you.

And now we’re in the same situation with Foyle’s War. We have acquired broadcast rights for these final three shows, and they will air sometime in May. Before that, we will present a special preview, Foyle’s War Revisited, on Sunday, March 8 at 8:00 pm.

Both Poirot and Foyle’s War were unexpected, additional costs not initially part of our 2015 budget. They represent part of our commitment to those who choose to spend their time with the WILL stations. I hope that you will tune in for them, and that we can count on your continued financial support of our program services.