Stiff Upper Lips Rejoice: ‘Downton Abbey’ Returns

The holidays are over, but to an awful lot of TV viewers Downton Abbey creator/writer Julian Fellowes is Santa Claus and this weekend’s season premiere is their most anticipated Christmas present of the year. Of course, Fellowes did leave fans with a rather unpleasant lump of coal at the end of last year’s finale.  We’d all been tipped that a major character was going to go to that great Afternoon Tea in the Sky, but virtually no one was prepared …

‘Last Tango in Halifax’: Love, Aged to Perfection

The rekindling of long-lost love is at the center of Last Tango in Halifax, the sterling new drama premiering Sunday at 8 p.m. on PBS stations (check local listings). Already a hit in the U.K. – it won Best Drama Series at this year’s British Academy Television Awards – it arrives in the U.S. just a few weeks before the start of a new network-TV season. It’s easily the fall’s best new series, albeit a short one: just six episodes. …

The Oilman Who Helped Bring Us ‘Masterpiece Theatre’

In the 1970s, author and social commentator Tom Wolfe joked that the first letter in PBS stood for petroleum, because oil money underwrote so much public broadcast programming. Wolfe had a point. One of the network’s most acclaimed shows, Masterpiece (originally Masterpiece Theatre), got its start in 1971 thanks to a $490,000 grant from Mobil Oil. That largess was the doing of Mobil chairman Rawleigh Warner Jr., who died on June 26 at age 92 in Hobe Sound, Fla. The public probably …

Let’s Go Shopping With ‘Mr. Selfridge’!

Poor Mr. Selfridge, freighted with comparisons before he even opens for business. Will the Masterpiece Classics series that debuts tonight (3/31) on PBS become the new Downton Abbey? After all, Downton’s  timeslot successor is also set in Edwardian England, and comes complete with upper crust accents and cantilevered hats. Will audiences be able to accept Jeremy Piven as pioneering showman of shopping Harry Gordon Selfridge after seeing him for eight seasons as f-bomb hurling Hollywood agent Ari Gold on Entourage? Well, …

‘Downton’s’ Season 3 Brings Later in Life Love, Match-up of Matriarchs and More

“Downton Abbey’s” third season rolls out Sunday (Jan. 6) with a fresh batch of episodes that, judging by the first five, are as savory and delicious as ever.  Yes, Shirley MacLaine is aboard as rich, social climbing New Yorker Martha Levinson, mother of Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern).  And, yes, her scenes with Dame Maggie Smith as Dowager Countess Violet Crawley are all fans heard and hoped they would be — a new defining moment in the Anglo American special relationship, class versus crass …

TV Full of Horrors, Not All On Purpose

I’ve spent more hours than is healthy hunting for a good show to highlight this week, and it’s been hell. Really. Yes, I am well aware that  American Horror Story: Asylum has critics and fans out there giddy, and that the FX offering beat ABC’s Nashville and NBC’s Chicago Fire in the ratings for its premiere last week. A series this newsworthy and star-filled (Jessica Lange, Joseph Fiennes, Jamie Cromwell, etc.) cannot go unmentioned. So I’ll give the devil his due. When it comes to torture, bloodletting …