Jonathan Creek can be seen on many PBS Stations (see "Does Your PBS Station Show...?") and now on BBC America.
Initial euphoria about the wonderfully entertaining BBC comedy/mystery series Jonathan Creek, starring Alan Davies and Caroline Quentin, here in the US has been dampened when it was discovered several minutes have been cut from the first season episodes (the 90-minute pilot, "The Wrestler's Tomb," appears untouched, but "Jack In The Box," "The Reconstituted Corpse," "No Trace of Tracy," and "The House of Monkeys" all suffered edits). How and why this happened provides an interesting look at the inner workings of the BBC.
The story begins with a friend of mine watching "The Reconstituted Corpse" on our local PBS station in Seattle and noticing several of her favorite scenes were missing from the original broadcast (which she had seen at a Society of The Rusting TARDIS video meeting). We compared the running times and discovered the BBC version was a hair under 59 minutes, while the version on PBS was 50 minutes 30 seconds. What happened to the eight and half minutes? Had KCTS cut it? This would seem odd, particularly as the station had had to run unrelated filler in the leftover 10 minutes anyway. A quick inquiry to the station resulted in the following response:
"...we are given permission to broadcast it, but nothing else. We are not allowed to edit or alter the program in any way. Any differences you see between the version on Channel 9 and the version in Britain are put there by the producer or distributor."
So the next line of inquiry was to ring BBC Worldwide in New York and find out if they knew anything. I have to say here that the folks at BBC Worldwide were extremely helpful and pleasant. And although they didn't believe me at first when I kept insisting that over eight minutes had somehow gone astray, they promised me to look into it and get back to me with an answer.
A few days later the phone rang and I got the complete story. Eight and half minutes had indeed been cut out of each of the first season episodes because BBC Worldwide had specifically invested in five 50-minute episodes, regardless of how long they had run in Britain. So why did the producer make a 59 minute program then? This is where it got interesting.
The BBC is a giant bureaucracy, with different divisions and hierarchies. A television show might come from any of these completely separate departments: Drama, Series and Serials, Light Entertainment, or Childrens. And then there are the regional BBC studios such as BBC North in Manchester, or BBC Northern Ireland, which operate as entities on their own. In Jonathan Creek's case, it was done by the Light Entertainment department. ("Light Entertainment" being the BBC euphemism for comedy.) The Light Entertainment department had never made an hour long series before, their normal output being 30 minute comedies. So when the brief came in for an "hour long series," they took it literally, essentially making a normal comedy but at twice the length. But alas, when BBC Worldwide got into the picture, the episodes had to be trimmed to fit the contracted 50 minute timeslot for foreign distribution.
However, for the second season of Jonathan Creek, the producers have changed and the episodes from now on will be exactly the same both in Britain and abroad. So what about ever seeing those missing moments from the first season episodes? All may not be lost. The very nice woman at BBC Worldwide (who is also a big fan of the series) said that if it becomes popular enough in the States to warrant putting the episodes out on home video, then it's possible they would be the full 59 minute versions.
So it's unfortunate for the time being we won't get a chance to see all of the first season, nevertheless Jonathan Creek is a terrific series that is well worth catching if it turns up on your local PBS station.
Jonathan Creek Episode Guide