Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA

At an afternoon TCA panel promoting the new season of PBSMasterpiece series, exec producer Rebecca Eaton was asked to explain a story in Britain’s Daily Mail that charged the acclaimed period drama Downton Abbey (recently nominated for 11 Primetime Emmys) lost two hours of content in its journey from the UK to America. Sounding unusually contentious, the typically unflappable Eaton explained, “I’m glad you brought this up. This was a story in the Daily Mail. Do I have to say anything more? And they got it wrong and they made a big deal out of it, that we’d taken two hours out. It wasn’t true. Our version was overall 20 or 25 minutes shorter and had to do with (advertising) and the need for different formatting. We didn’t chop it up to make it more palatable to the dummies in the American audience — as it was implied.” Eaton was quick to add, “By the way, that reporter’s name was Christopher Hastings.”

“Mailgate” aside, Eaton exulted in what’s proved to be a breakout year for the Masterpiece franchise, boasting that its ratings have increased 43% over the past 12 months as well as acquired a sponsor in Viking River Cruises beginning the final quarter of this year. She also announced that the three highest-rated programs done by the franchise since last year — Downton Abbey, Sherlock and Upstairs Downstairs — all are being brought back with sequels. Downton Abbey II premieres Jan. 8, 2012. Three more Sherlock installments are being co-produced with the BBC to start airing next May. And six more episodes of Upstairs (also a BBC co-production) heads into production in October for air in 2013.

Previously today, PBS announced the production launch of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a new animated multiple-platform series inspired by the kids classic Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from the legendary Fred Rogers. The new preschool series — launching fall 2012 — is described as an animated version of the original Neighborhood of Make Believe starring 4-year-old Daniel Tiger talking directly to kids at home and inviting them into his world. It’s the first series produced by the Fred Rogers Co. since Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.