'Downton Abbey' Gets Farewell Sendoff at Edinburgh International Television Festival

Nick Briggs
'Downton Abbey'

Producer Gareth Neame recalled "four middle-aged men trying not to cry in front of each other" in the cutting room as they put the final episodes together.

With 2015 marking the last edition of the Edinburgh International Television Festival before the final season of Downton Abbey is aired, it was inevitable that one of the U.K.'s most successful dramas in recent years was given some sort of special acknowledgment.

And so Gareth Neame, the managing director of Carnival Films and executive producer of the show; ITV director of television Peter Fincham, who commissioned the show; and NBCUniversal's international studios president, Michael Edelstein; along with castmembers Jim Carter (Mr. Carson) and Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), assembled for a celebratory panel session entitled 'Farewell, Downton' on the first day of the event.

Speaking about the instant success of the show on British TV screens, Neame explained the shock on finding out that the second episode of the first season had jumped two million viewers — to 11 million — while he was on a flight to MIPCOM in Cannes.

"You just don't expect to see shows going up 20 percent between the first and second episodes," he said. "Julian Fellowes was on the same flight. I got off the plane and loitered around to tell him. He just looked at me and pointed at his hand, as if to say, 'From here, genius comes.' "

Fincham, who first greenlighted the show in 2009, admitted that, coming off the back of a tough recession, it had "been a stretch financially" at first, while Edelstein said that he just had started his job as head of NBCUniversal International Studios when he was given four episodes of the show to watch.

"It was a Friday night, and I watched all four hours in one sitting. I've never seen anything that made me want to devour something so quickly," he said. "You can watch Downton if you’re 12 and if you’re 75, and that, I think, is one of the reasons why it’s been gobbled up around the world."

Looking to the sixth and final season of the show, the audience was offered the first-ever glimpse of the trailer, which showed several members of the Crawley household and staff — including Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes — contemplating life outside of Downton. One sequence suggested that Lady Edith perhaps would find happiness after all, while a further shock came with Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess offering a smile.

Neame said that there was high emotion among the cast and crew while putting the last-ever episodes together, describing one scene in the cutting room with "four middle-aged men trying not to cry in front of each other."

But he was adamant that Downton Abbey, the TV show, would not be returning, at least not under his watch. "But who knows what might happen in 40 years, when someone from NBCUniversal looks at it and says, 'Let's set it in another planet,' or something. You never know."

The Edinburgh International Television Festival runs through Aug. 28.

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