Belfast Telegraph

Downton gives US show ratings boost

Sherlock, Downton Abbey and other hit British shows have helped give the US TV drama programme Masterpiece a ratings boost.

The PBS programme - known for showcasing drama adaptations, including many popular UK series - is also marking its 40th year with a new sponsor.

Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton revealed a 43 per cent increase in ratings over last year spurred by a strong line-up of shows including Sherlock, Downton and Upstairs Downstairs.

"It's a great way to turn 40, I can tell you," Eaton said.

All will return to PBS for a second season, starting with Downton Abbey next January. The series, set in an English country estate in the early 20th century, stars Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery.

Sherlock will be back in spring 2012, followed by Upstairs Downstairs in 2013.

The three shows, along with the drama series Any Human Heart, garnered a record 25 Emmy nominations for Masterpiece, Eaton said.

She also revealed that a national corporate sponsor, a luxury cruise company, would be on board for the first time in more than six years. Viking River Cruises will contribute an unspecified amount to the PBS programme starting in the final quarter of this year.

The programme was funded since its 1971 debut by Exxon Mobil, which ended its support at the end of 2004. PBS has been funding Masterpiece and will continue to support it, Eaton told the Television Critics Association.

Two upcoming Masterpiece: Contemporary specials have been announced - Page Eight, a conspiracy thriller starring Bill Nighy and written and directed by David Hare, and A Song of Lunch, a relationship drama with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman. Both specials air in November.

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