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Downton Abbey: Odds and Ends from PBS' TCA Session (Plus, the Uptown Downstairs Comic Relief Sketch)

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know I spent yesterday in a lovely Downton Abbey dream, as PBS presented their session for Masterpiece (which included several announcements) and a 45-minute panel for Downton Abbey which returns to our shores in January. (I also spent the morning doing one-on-one interviews with cast members Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Siobhan Finneran, and Elizabeth McGovern, but you'll have to wait a bit to read the feature.)

The session--the most lavishly fannish of any TCA session possibly ever (we critics are huge Downton fans)--began with a hilarious sizzle reel from Season One of Downton Abbey set to the strains of "Downtown," (adorable) before executive producer Rebecca Eaton took to the stage to introduce the panel and get through some housekeeping issues. "To our audience, Anglophilia is not a dirty word," said Eaton. (It certainly isn't, this Anglophile thought, nodding sagely.)

Season Two of Downton Abbey, set to launch in September in the United Kingdom, will rejoin Masterpiece on January 8th. The nine episodes of the second season--the eight episodes in the regular series and the Christmas special (airing in the UK in December)--will air over the course of seven weeks on PBS' Masterpiece Classic. In even better news, Eaton promised that "not a single frame" will be edited out of the U.S. broadcast when it airs here next year. (Season One had roughly twenty minutes of minor cuts from the six-hour-plus running time when it aired Stateside. "I'm sure many of the UK adverts you can get on YouTube," Dan Stevens joke, when asked how to get the full Downton Abbey UK experience.)

(Unrelated: Three Sherlock episodes are expected in Spring 2012 (likely in May), and Upstairs Downstairs in 2013. Meanwhile, Masterpiece will premiere Song of Lunch and Page 8 in the autumn as part of their Masterpiece Contemporary strand. Eaton also announced the co-production of a mystery drama pilot called "Endeavour," the story of early life of Inspector Morse. ITV will announce the series lead on Wednesday, so stay tuned.)

But back to Downton. The action picks up in 1916, two years after the events of the first season and the advent of World War I. When asked how Matthew Crawley is different in Season Two to how he was portrayed in the first season, Stevens was candid: "In Series 2, he's surrounded by a lot of explosions." We'll find Matthew as a dutiful soldier "very active at the front" who will experience moments of heroism.

Rebecca Eaton said there's one character from Series 1 who doesn't return for Series 2. Easy: Gwen, a fact that Neame then confirmed, as Gwen was last seen leaving the series for a secretarial role. There's a chance she could turn up down the line as a professional woman, but we won't be seeing her in the second season. New characters this season will include new love interests for Mary and Matthew, the loathsome Mrs. Bates (played by The Tudors' Maria Doyle Kennedy), a new housemaid, new male servants, and several others.

As for the matter of the entail, which some audience members were confused by (but which is all too familiar to readers of Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice"), Stevens said, "I wish Laura Linney had been there to give us a lesson on the entail." ("It would be completely mistaken to think that the British audience had any idea what an entail was," added Neame.)

A random Downton Abbey fact--that Siobhan Finneran, who plays evil Miss O'Brien, has never been to Highclere Castle, where #DowntonAbbey is filmed--was later disproven, as I asked Finneran herself how this could be true. Finneran told me she's been to Highclere many times, carried stacks of linen up those steps more than she likes to remember.

Asked to compare the series to other current shows, Neame called Downton closer in feel to Mad Men, a period-set piece with modern writing, rather than other Masterpiece adaptations. Elizabeth McGovern said that audiences on both sides of the Atlantic responded to Downton Abbey because "it's historically accurate, emotionally true and a lot of fun."

Meanwhile, if that weren't enough Downton-related goodness for you, I've embedded the full Comic Relief 2011 spoof of Downton Abbey, entitled Uptown Downstairs (it's two parts in full) after the jump for your delectation. Carson, you can bring the tea in now...

Uptown Downstairs Part One:

Uptown Downstairs Part Two:

Downton Abbey will return in September in the U.K. on ITV and in January 8th on PBS' Masterpiece Classic.


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