Vancouver Sun

The Science is in: How Downton Abbey created the ‘perfect TV episode’


It had to happen. PhD students from The Media School at Bournemout­h University in the U.K. created a mathematic­al formula that breaks down a typical TV episode by its content. Researcher­s determined the “perfect TV episode” to be a mix of drama, shock, comedy, action and romance. The Bournemout­h researcher­s subjected episodes from the 25 most popular TV programs from the past decade to the test, including Friends, Modern Family and The Walking Dead. The mathematic­al formula for the perfect TV episode, they decided, is 65 per cent drama, 12 per cent shocks and surprises, nine per cent comedy, eight per cent action and six per cent romance. Surprising­ly, given the small screen’s penchant for both popularity — Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, NCIS and The Big Bang Theory, etc. — and quality — Mad Men, House of Cards, Fargo and True Detective, etc. — Downton Abbey came out on top once the science was put to the test. Downton Abbey’s fifth episode from Season 3 — the one where Lady Sybil dies — came closest to the formula, with 36 minutes of drama, three minutes of shock and surprise, one minute of comedy, four minutes of action and three minutes of romance, for a total of 47 minutes — give or take a couple of seconds here and there. The study was commission­ed by England’s BT TV subscripti­on service and Heat magazine TV editor Boyd Hilton. In a separate question, researcher­s polled some 2,000 viewers for their favourite episode from any TV show of the past 10 years. The winner, by a wide margin, was Friends’ series finale, The Last One, which aired on May 6, 2004. Another poll question, which asked viewers to name TV’s most dramatic episode, found the Oct. 12 season premiere of The Walking Dead, No Sanctuary, to be tops in tension and intensity. Downton Abbey won the scientific poll, however.

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