TV Worth Blogging

Who? Where? Why?

(UPDATED! See below!) Here's why we may be unable to air the Peter Capaldi episodes of "Doctor Who." Believe me, I'm trying...
The TARDIS is covered by a red "no" symbol.

David Thiel

UPDATED July 29: That good news I'd hoped for has arrived! Series 8 of Doctor Who is coming to WILL-TV Saturdays at 10:00 pm beginning September 5! So, you can pretty much ignore most of the following article.

Allow me a few moments to establish my Doctor Who bona fides. My first exposure to the show was in December, 1975, when Chicago's WTTW-TV briefly ran some of the episodes featuring Jon Pertwee as the 3rd Doctor. I was immediately hooked, and have been watching (off and on) for 40 years. I went to conventions, subscribed to Doctor Who Magazine and scoured bookstores to complete a collection of paperback novelizations. As I type this, a column of Dalek action figures balefully stare down at me from an office shelf.

I'll put it this way: it is by no means a coincidence that WILL-TV was among the earliest adopters of "New Who." 

Unfortunately, it appears that very soon I will find myself in the uncomfortable position of explaining to disappointed fans that we may be unable to air its most recent season. And trust me when I tell you that I am not happy about it.

It's not for lack of money. I allocated the necessary funds in my current year's acquisition budget. 

However, when I approached our sales rep at BBC Worldwide--the company which sells BBC-produced shows to international broadcasters--I was told that we would not be allowed to purchase new episodes of Doctor Who for the foreseeable future. The reason? BBC America, the U.S. cable channel co-owned by BBC Worldwide and AMC Networks, is blocking its sale to public television stations like WILL-TV. 

In the past, we've been able to peacefully coexist alongside BBCA. They premiered new episodes of Who stateside, and typically enjoyed a year of exclusivity before we were allowed to add on. On a couple of previous occasions I was told that I might be unable to continue running the series, but things always worked out. Not so this least, not yet. 

The truly unfortunate thing is that beginning in September, some PBS stations will begin running Peter Capaldi's adventures. That's because they pre-purchased those episodes last year, before word came down from Corporate. I was unable to participate in that early sale because, as WILL-TV is part of the University of Illinois and therefore the State of Illinois, I have to abide by state purchasing laws which prohibit buying services in one fiscal year that won't begin until the following year. (Those laws weren't set up with television broadcast rights windows in mind.)

So, I'm anticipating some unpleasant conversations once the 12th Doctor begins airing on stations such as Oklahoma's OETA, but not here in Champaign-Urbana. Please, go easy on me.

It's my hope that things will eventually be resolved favorably. For now, we'll continue airing the David Tennant episodes of Who, Saturday nights at 10:00 pm. And if anything changes, you can bet I'll be on it like a sink plunger on a Dalek.