Masterpiece Classic “Downton Abbey”

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Masterpiece, the longest-running, most-honored drama series on primetime television, takes a bow and blows out 40 candles in January 2011 as it celebrates a milestone anniversary. Featuring the best of British actors, from Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh to Keira Knightley, Daniel Radcliffe and Carey Mulligan, the series has won 51 Primetime Emmys, 17 Peabody Awards, and 31 BAFTA s, while airing some 2,000 hours of programming.

Continuing this illustrious tradition, the 40th season premieres with a quintessentially Masterpiece production, Downton Abbey , an Edwardian spellbinder created by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes ( Gosford Park ) and airing in four 90-minute episodes on Sundays, Jan. 9 through Jan. 30, 2011, at 9 p.m. on Eight, Arizona PBS.

Starring Hugh Bonneville ( Notting Hill ), Maggie Smith ( Harry Potter ), Elizabeth McGovern ( A Room with a View ), Dan Stevens ( Sense & Sensibility ) and a country-house full of other great actors, the miniseries set audience records during its recent UK broadcast and was hailed as “a sumptuous, instantly riveting glimpse of a world—and family—on the verge of profound change” by the London Daily Telegraph .

Downton Abbey is truly a Masterpiece and the perfect program to begin the celebration of our 40th season,” says Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton. “It's a grand story with an excellent script, full of memorable characters, played out in a gorgeous setting. That's the Masterpiece tradition. And for so many of us who have grown up with it, that tradition is the drama of our lives.”

The plot of Downton Abbey is straight out of Jane Austen, updated to the era that introduced electric lights and telephones. It is 1912. The Titanic has just gone down in the north Atlantic, taking with it the two male heirs to Downton Abbey, whose current Lord Grantham has only daughters—albeit marriageable ones. His nearest male relative is a handsome lawyer bachelor—living in Manchester, who soon learns the ropes of managing a sprawling country estate, with its army of devoted, sometimes bickering servants, its hunts, garden parties, and sexual intrigues.

In its depiction of the intertwined lives of servants and aristocrats, Downton Abbey recalls one of television's most beloved programs, Upstairs Downstairs , which aired on Masterpiece in the 1970s. One of the thrills of Masterpiece's 40th season is a new three-part Upstairs Downstairs with a new cast of characters set in the same house at 165 Eaton Place, taking the story from 1936 to the outbreak of World War II .

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