Spoiler insurance on soaps — ‘The Bachelor’ vs. ‘Downton Abbey’

Two popular soaps return to the airwaves over the next two nights — the scripted BBC/PBS co-production “Downton Abbey” tonight and the presumably unscripted ABC reality show “The Bachelor” tomorrow night.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of the first episode of the new, third season of “Downton Abbey” and am happy to report that it starts off very well. There is one terrific new character (an American dowager played with real zest by Shirley MacLaine) and pleasing new developments in the lives of the characters fans came to love in the first two seasons of this plush melodrama set in a British mansion in the early years of the 20th century.

What takes some of the pleasure away from this season of “Downton Abbey” is a widely reported spoiler involving what happens to one of the major characters in the final episode of the new season. The series is broadcast in England first, so what transpired in the finale might have been impossible to hide in this country (If you haven’t read about it, I’m happy for you, and you won’t be hearing about it from me.)

One of the major pleasures of a soap is following the ups and downs of a story from week to week, with cliffhangers along the way that encourage us to stay with a show simply to find out what is going to happen next.

“Downton Abbey” has been beautifully constructed to maximize this episode-to-episode suspense, but the boneheaded decision by PBS to air it in the U.S. after the whole series has run in England has caught up with the show this year. There is no good reason for PBS to delay the show here — it is a co-producer, not just an importer — so the spoiler mess is of the TV network’s own making.

“The Bachelor” and most of the other reality soaps have avoided this problem by guarding each episode before airing, and by making all of the participants sign confidentiality agreements that legally bind them from discussing upcoming episodes.

ABC is so aware of viewership of “The Bachelor” depending on a what-happens-next? response that it is once again suing Internet entrepreneur “Reality” Steve Carbone who runs a website that searches out and publishes reality show spoilers.

The Hollywood Reporter ran a piece on Friday that producers were launching another suit against Carbone because of spoilers he has published about the women who will be eliminated in the early episodes of the new season of “The Bachelor.”

The producers and Carbone reached a settlement in another suit launched in 2011 “alleging that to gain spoilers, he was attempting to induce contestants into breaching their confidentiality pledges,” the trade paper reported.

“The lawsuit settled in June (2012), with Warners expressing satisfaction that he had agreed to have no further contact whatsoever with any of the cast, crew or employees of ‘The Bachelor.’ Carbone pledged at the time to continue spoiling the show but to abide by the settlement so as not to ‘to give them an alleged excuse to file another [lawsuit],’” The Hollywood Reporter added.

The spoilers that leaked out on “The Bachelor” this year were mostly small potatoes — certainly nothing about the young man’s final choice of a mate on the last episode — so Carbone hasn’t done much damage.

I wish the producers of “Downton Abbey” had been as careful about guarding their series’ last episode bombshell.

Joe Meyers