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BEVERLY HILLS — When Downton Abbey ended, everyone found themselves in a bit of a bind.
With the threat of World War I upon the residents and staff of the fictional Downtown Abbey — the series returns for its second season on Jan. 8, 2012 in the U.S. — finds themselves two years into the war. (The U.K. premiere is set for some time in September.)
When asked about whether the show would ever premiere in the U.S. and the U.K. closer together, it was something that was out of their control. “December would be a terrible time to air it … We have seven weeks to air Downton, [which is] three more weeks [than last season]. … The U.S. version is slightly different. You are right, we are in the day of instant information and pirated video but I think we’ll be alright,” executive producer Rebecca Eaton said Sunday afternoon at the Television Critics Assoc. press tour, referring to the threat of viewers watching the series before it airs on television.
In addressing reports that the American version was edited down significantly from the original, Eaton dispelled those rumors. She said about 20 minutes was taken out, not two hours, only due to advertisements. (The missing 20 minutes will be available on the DVD, Eaton said.)
When asked about portraying eldest Crawley daughter Mary and what her reaction was. “On first reading … she came across as a cold person and very much a snob. Up until the incident with Pamuk, the Turkish character, Mary became much more vulnerable from then on,” actress Michelle Dockery told reporters. “She softened a little more because something happened to her.”
She added: “She’s still pining for him after two years and is hopeful that they will be together but she finds out very quickly that he’s moved on to someone else.”
And though everyone involved with Downton wasn’t exactly sure whether there would be another series to film, members of the cast felt like the way last season ended was a good bookend. “It seemed like a natural moment to end things,” actor Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley, of the finale.
But war is on Matthew’s mind when January rolls around. “In series two, he’s surrounded by explosions and in series one, he wasn’t. He’s in uniform a lot of the time,” Stevens says. “It’s darker.”
Siobhan Finneran talked about where her character O’Brien is at in the beginning of the second season. “She doesn’t turn into Mother Teresa,” Finneran joked.
Executive producer Gareth Neame said that the new series will go through a similar timeline that last season’s did. Though Neame said that if the show does continue, they will have to figure out a way to slow things down. He revealed that the resolution of World War I will take place before the final episodes, so the last hours take place post-war.
“The narrative structure is very, very similar,” Neame said. “That jumble of narrative remains. Now that we’ve got the higher stakes of the war, it feels very similar.”
Eaton teased that there is one character from the first season who will not return in January, though she wouldn’t give hints as to who, but Neame revealed that Gwen — who gets a job as a secretary at the end of last season — will not be back.
There will be new characters coming in; new love interests for Mary and Matthew, Neame shared.
PBS’ Masterpiece ratings have soared 43 percent from the previous year, due to the help of strong showings with Upstairs Downstairs, Sherlock and Downton.
Elizabeth McGovern were also present.
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