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TCA 2012: 'Downton Abbey' Cast, Creators Offer Sneak Peek of Season Three

Mr. Bates languishes in jail, Lord Grantham loses all his money and Lady Sybil brings the chauffeur to dinner.

Downton Abbey Dan Stevens Michelle Dockery Dancing  - H 2012
PBS

The cast and creators of Downton Abbey lifted their proverbial skirts – ever so slightly – to give members of the media gathered at the final opening day session of the Television Critics Association summer press tour a look at the hotly anticipated third season of the PBS series.

The highlights:

Mr. Bates is in jail. But Mrs. Bates, nee Anna Smith, has unshakable faith that his innocence will come to light and he will be released. (To close the session, Hugh Bonneville ripped off his necktie and unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a "Free Bates" T-shirt.)

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Lord Grantham obviously has not heard of Bernie Madoff, because he apparently invested all of his money, including Lady Grantham’s inheritance, into one corrupt basket. Lady Grantham asks plaintively: “Are you really telling me that all the money is gone?" Of course the answer is, sadly, yes. Lord Grantham breaks down and wonders if Lady Grantham will leave him. Lady Grantham consoles him: “Don’t worry about me. I’m an American. Have gun will travel.”

And Lady Sybil brings her husband – the erstwhile chauffeur – to Downton, where Mr. Carson declares that he will not dress the “grubby little chauffer.”

The cast also addressed the show’s cultural currency. Bonneville, a recent Emmy nominee for his role as Lord Grantham noted that the show has belied its grey profile. “A lad at my son’s playground came up to me and said: I don’t like that Thomas,” said Bonneville.

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Shirley MacLaine - who joins the show as the mother of Lady Grantham, who immediately clashes with Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess - was asked if she was a fan of the show before being cast. MacLaine responded: "Actually, no." Rather, she learned about the show from her Malibu hairdresser.

But what creator Julian Fellowes has done so brilliantly, said MacLaine, is produce a period drama with fully developed characters packaged in a fast-moving story that “sits with the Internet tolerance for emotional knowledge.”

Asked at what point in history the series would end, Fellowes joked: "We could end with the Wall Street crash [of 1929] and have Robert playing the ukelele."

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com

Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie