Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton positively beamed at critics this afternoon during a lunchtime panel promoting the PBS series of British productions. Ratings for the series were up by nearly a third in 2011, Eaton reported. The numbers for women aged 25-64 were “double what they usually are,” she added. “And we generated critical praise that you just can’t buy.” Also key was the record 25 Emmy nominations racked up by the series last year and, at the same time, the reception accorded the Masterpiece miniseries Downton Abbey that returns for its second season beginning this Sunday. (A third season of 10 hours has also been announced, to air on PBS stations in 2013; it begins shooting in February.) Downton in September not only won four Emmys — recognized as top movie/mini as well as for writing, directing and the supporting acting of Maggie Smith — but also brought the pubcaster a burst of critical recognition during a time in Washington when government funding of public broadcasting was suddenly in peril. One could even go so far as to say that Downton Abbey helped to save PBS, though Eaton wouldn’t go quite that far this afternoon.
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