Tube Talk: ‘Downton Abbey’ vs. ‘The Walking Dead’

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

There are Downton Abbey fans and there are The Walking Dead fans. It might seem strange, but some of us love both shows. When the third season of The Walking Dead resumed the other day, I was torn about which to watch live and which to watch later.

Since my DVR was set to record both shows, and can only record two things at a time, I set my TV to a third channel just before that magical moment: 8 p.m. Central time. I let the DVR decide which channel to switch to, and on came the two-hour installment Downton Abbey.

Apparently, I was in the minority in time-shifting The Walking Dead. Overnight ratings indicate it drew an astounding 12.3 million viewers opposite The Grammy Awards; Talking Dead retained 4.1 million viewers. [For context, the season premiere of Downton Abbey last month averaged 7.9 million, roughly quadruple PBS’s average primetime ratings.]

Initially, I thought it might be best to watch The Walking Dead and its live aftershow, Talking Dead, as they aired, to lower the risk of having zombie nightmares from watching it right before bedtime. But watching Downton first worked out well. Why? Because it would have taken longer to watch than Walking and Talking, which had commercials I could fast forward through.

In the end, I watched all three shows Sunday night. And no nightmares.

People are probably more likely to peg me as a religious Downton Abbey viewer than as someone who has never missed an episode of The Walking Dead. And with good reason — I don’t generally like horror movies, but love British period dramas.

I know I’m not the only person who enjoys both shows despite their very different genres. For those of us who love Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead equally, it’s not about genre, it’s about quality.

Both shows are beautifully shot and have feature film-level production values. Sure, on Downton you see the grandeur of a bygone era — lavish lifestyles, sumptuous homes, beautiful gowns — while The Walking Dead showcases so many ways to kill zombies that Talking Dead has a weekly “in memoriam” segment of slo-mo clips of zombies (and humans) killed in each week’s episode. But the characters and storylines are what really engage viewers.

Sure, on Downton Abbey, much of this season’s focus has been on saving the family home — and possibly downsizing to a mere mansion — while the characters on The Walking Dead are focused on survival. Forced to live in one world or the other, most people who choose the comforts of Downton, where even the lowliest servant has an easier life than the survivors on The Walking Dead.

Fans of both shows only have one more week of deciding which show to watch live. Downton Abbey’s season finale airs Sunday, Feb. 17.

Given the success of horror-literary mash-ups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I’m sure somewhere in the world of fan fiction, Downton’s Dowager Countess is aiming her verbal daggers at zombies as we speak.

Programming notes

Downton Abbey season finale airs Sunday, Feb. 17, at 8 p.m. Central on PBS.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 8 p.m. Central on AMC.

Talking Dead airs Sundays at 9:01 p.m. Central on AMC.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to

From the Feb. 13-19, 2013, issue

One thought on “Tube Talk: ‘Downton Abbey’ vs. ‘The Walking Dead’

  • February 14, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Has anyone seen the wicked walking dead action figures at

    I ordered a couple of them earlier today and am still so pleased with myself about it.

    Now my only problem is waiting the 5 days for it to come in the mail!

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