For purveyors of online video communities like Youtube and Blip, there's often nothing more frustrating than having to sit through a 30 second ad just to watch a 2 minute video. So what if for every second of advert you have to watch, a second of the video you actually want to watch is edited away to make room?
Sound like a terrible idea? Not to PBS. US audiences who sat down eagerly last week to watch the imported second series of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' Sherlock were disappointed to find that the 90 minute episode A Scandal In Belgravia had been cut down to 82 minutes in order to allow for the necessary "words from our sponsors".
I personally belong to the school of thought which asserts that, when it comes to the moving image, every frame is sacred. Cuts get made after the fact all the time. In the case of television that's usually through censorship necessary to convert an adult show to pre-watershed material, but every frame that gets cut changes the overall text. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that art forms involving the moving image are a battlefield and every frame that gets cut is another man down. In each episode of Sherlock shown on PBS, 691,200 frames have been cut. I'd call that a massacre.
Eight minutes of a 90 minute episode constitutes just under 10% of the overall material, which means that the majority of the episodes will still be shown. Will those eight lost minutes really make much of a difference? To find out, let's try cutting 10% of the material from a few other art forms. The loss is roughly the equivalent of:
- Cutting The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Tempest, Julius Caesar, the boring "talky" bits of Hamlet and a few dozen sonnets from the collected works of Shakespeare.
- Cutting the screaming face from Edvard Munch's The Scream.
- Cutting Eleanor Rigby out of the Beatles album Revolver.
- Cutting the glazing off a Krispy Kreme donut.
Cutting 10% of an episode without mangling it beyond recognition is a daunting task, and the fact that the editorial changes were left to Sherlock production company Hartswood possibly made it even more difficult. Speaking to The Independent, executive producer Sue Vertue had this to say:
We had to cut eight minutes. The PBS episodes have to be 82 minutes because of sponsors announcements. It breaks your heart. We try to cut the bits which aren't essential to the story but they are often the lovely character scenes. We'll see if we can avoid it next time.
Scenes that were cut included Sherlock Holmes and John Watson's investigation into a "speckled blonde", a nod to the Arthur Conan Doyle story The Speckled Band, and a scene where John's girlfriend breaks up with him for choosing Sherlock over her. Also, for offering to walk a dog that she didn't have. Also, because of his terrible jumpers. She didn't mention the jumpers but I'm assuming it was a contributing factor.
It's not hard to see Vertue's dilemma. Before production even begins, a script for an episode will be whittled down, and refined into what the writers consider to be its best and most important elements. After filming, further scenes are usually cut in order for the episode to run for only 90 minutes. By the time the episodes were shown on the BBC, we were already watching what the show creators considered to be the final version of their text, with not a single moment wasted. To then have to cut a further eight minutes for the sake of commercials … well, there's something a bit Sophie's Choice about the whole thing.
To hear that the scenes mainly included for character development were first on the chopping block is even more saddening. Those who have seen Sherlock would likely agree that the characters in the show and the relationships between them are what make it so engaging, perhaps even more so than the mysteries around which each episode is structured.
Perhaps public pressure will convince PBS to at least show the third series in its entirety. Apparently it might not even be filmed until early 2013, so at least there's plenty of time in which to persuade them. To our American cousins, we can only offer our condolences that you only got to see an extract of each of the episodes. It's been confirmed that the US DVD and Blu-ray of Sherlock Season 2 will have the full episodes on them so we highly recommend purchasing them when they come out.
Those 24 minutes are worth it.