"Downton Abbey" brings cool TV crowd to America's PBS

Wed Feb 8, 2012 8:33am EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Move over, "Mad Men" and Kim Kardashian. There's a new darling in U.S. pop culture, with a much posher accent and even fancier clothes.

British World War One-era drama "Downton Abbey" and its colorful cast of countesses, cooks and kitchen maids has taken America by storm, dominating modern social media and bringing millions of new, young viewers to the often staid world of public broadcasting.

January's second-season opener on PBS's "Masterpiece" slot drew 4.2 million U.S. viewers -- an 18 percent rise on the first season and rising to 6.3 million in replays and online views.

That's over a million more than the regular audience for award-winning "Mad Men," and on a par with the Kardashian divorce drama finale of "Kourtney and Kim Take New York."

Cut-glass accents and castles have always been a draw for American audiences. Think 2011 best picture Oscar "The King's Speech" or Helen Mirren's Oscar-winning turn as Britain's Queen Elizabeth in "The Queen."

But what sets "Downton Abbey" apart is the buzz the show is creating on new social media websites like Twitter and Facebook for a TV channel usually associated with older viewers.

PBS, enjoying its new, hip profile, expects interest to soar again when Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as the mother of American heiress Cora, who married the aristocratic but impoverished Earl of Grantham. That bit of casting was announced last week and made headlines around the globe.

"There has been a tremendous online response," said Sarah Ball, deputy editor of VanityFair.com, who live-tweets during each weekly episode.   Continued...

<p>Writer Julian Fellowes accepts the award for outstanding miniseries or movie for "Downton Abbey," at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles September 18, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>