'Downton Abbey' draws record premiere numbers for PBS

8:29 PM, Jan 6, 2014   |    comments
Castle, Highclere, Hampshire, England. It's the site of the period piece drama 'Downton Abbey' on PBS.
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(USA TODAY) - Downton Abbey received a warm stateside welcome Sunday, attracting a record 10.2 million viewers for its fourth-season premiere on PBS.

Contemporary Americans remain fascinated with the happenings at a 1920s English estate as the two-hour episode, the highest-rated drama premiere in PBS history, easily eclipsed last season's premiere (7.9 million) and finale (8.2 million).

Sunday's episode picked up six months after the death of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) in the Season 3 finale, with Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), his widow and the mother of their son, George, mourning his passing and the estate facing death taxes.

Shirley MacLaine will return later this season and will be joined by several newcomers, including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Paul Giamatti.

As has been the practice, Season 4 ran in England before Sunday's U.S. premiere on PBS' Masterpiece, which is presented by WGBH in Boston.

"As this captivating drama continues, our audiences have been eagerly awaiting this new season to see what's next for these beloved characters," PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger said in a statement. "I'm so pleased that millions of viewers have returned to Downton Abbey on their local PBS stations for what has become a post-holiday tradition."

"I'm delighted to see that the Crawley family's intrigue continues to beguile our viewers," said Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton. "Julian Fellowes has written every word of all four seasons of Downton, and I toss him a huge bouquet on behalf of his American fans."

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