Life, you may have noticed, is not fair. Good shows depart quickly; "Alice" and "Facts of Life" seemed to go on forever. And now "Downton Abbey" is starting its final season on Sunday (Jan. 3) ... three days before "American Idol" doies the same.
These are shows that helped transform their networks; they also remain consistent. This final "Downton" season continues the show's elegance and depth; here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
By now, the “Downton
Abbey” people seem eternal.
They fill our living
rooms on winter Sundays. They're as comfortable as a wine glass and a
smoking jacket ... except, of course, that few of them smoke.
“One thing I've
learnt from the show is that the only people who smoke cigarettes are
up to no good,” said Hugh Bonneville, who plays the family
Now they're leaving
us, with the final season ending March 6. “I never thought this day
would come,” said Rebecca Eaton, the head of PBS'' “Masterpiece.”
It's come quite
quickly. This is only the sixth season, putting “Downton” short
of even “Petticoat Junction,” “The Quiz Kids” and “Life
Begins at Eighty” in seasons.
Still, the impact
has been huge – especially for public-TV.
“It is the top PBS
drama of all time,” said Paula Kerger, the network's president,
“and one of the most-watched dramas on American television.”
It has boosted other
Sunday dramas, airing in front of “Downton” (“Call the Midwife”
returns this spring) and afterward (the Civil War “Mercy Street”
will be at 10 p.m. Sundays, starting Jan. 17).
There have been 60
Emmy nominations so far and 12 wins – two of them for Maggie Smith,
81, as Violet Crawley, the sharp-tongued dowager crafted by creator
“I think in
another life that Julian would be Lady Grantham,” said Penelope
Wilton, whose character (Isobel) often spars with her. “He seems to
write effotlessly for Lady Grantham ... I am constantly frustrated by
Fellowes seems to
invest each character with depth. “His view on life is that people
have tried to be fundamentally good,” Bonneville said. “They may
do bad things, but he writes from a position that human nature tries
to do good.”
He preserves the
mood of a 1925 manor; only on “Downton” has a character actually
said: “I'm going upstairs to take off my hat.” But he also uses
the speed of modern storytelling.
changing, especially among the three sisters. Sybil died ... as did
Mary's husband ... as did Edith's boyfriend, who left her with a
London magazine to run.
“She could have
been the most conventional of the three daughters,” said Laura
Carmichael, who plays her. “I think she wanted a life much like her
parents and grandparents, but because of the ... heartache, really,
she's sort of had to find a different path for herself.”
That included a
secret pregnancy. By now, many of the characters realize that little
Marigold is actually the daughter of Edith and her late lover.
“Mary is still in
the dark about Marigold,” said Michelle Dockery, who plays her.
“Because she just doesn't take enough interest in Edith's life to
Mary has other
things to worry about, managing the estate now that Sybil's widower
has moved to Boston. She also has people trying to nudge her toward a
The sole marriage on
the horizon so far involves the show's stately butler and
housekeeper, Mr. Carter and Mrs. Hughes. They are not the type for
kissing, hugging ... or refering to each other by first name. They
are “Downton Abbey” kind of people.
Abbey,” 9 p.m. Sundays on PBS' “Masterpiece”
-- Final season runs
Jan. 3 through Feb. 21, then has its finale March 6