'Downton Abbey' gets early iTunes showing
This undated publicity photo provided by PBS shows, from left, Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Grantham, Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham, Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley, Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley, Allen Leech as Tom Branson, Jim Carter as Mr. Carson, and Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes, from the TV series, "Downton Abbey." On January 29, the final three episodes of Downton Abbey Season 3 will be available to iTunes Season Pass holders in the US and Canada before the episodes air on TV. (AP Photo/PBS, Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE, Nick Briggs)
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Select "Downton Abbey" fans are in for an early viewing treat and bragging rights.
Apple said Monday that people in North America who hold iTunes season passes will be able to see this season's last three episodes of "Downton" before they air.
The period drama's second season was the bestselling TV series on iTunes last year, Apple said, without disclosing the numbers. The exclusive preview of a TV series is the first for iTunes, the company said.
The third season of "Downton Abbey" began Jan. 6 with an episode that drew nearly 8 million viewers, quadrupling PBS' average prime-time audience. The drama about British landed gentry and their household servants stars Hugh Bonneville, Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery.
Episodes are available beginning Jan. 29 on iTunes. The season finale airs Feb. 17 on PBS' "Masterpiece" showcase.
Whether iTunes viewers can hold their tongues, spoilers about major plot twists already are out because the series has aired in Britain. That's raised questions about whether PBS should have aired "Downtown" concurrently with its ITV fall debut in the U.K.
Speaking to the Television Critics Association on Monday, PBS chief Paula Kerger said putting "Downton" in the teeth of the competitive U.S. fall TV season may not serve the show or its audience.
But PBS is keeping an eye on the situation and talking to stations and viewers about the issue, she said.
Asked if the strong initial viewership vindicated PBS' scheduling decision, Kerger called the ratings "a beautiful thing," but added it will be interesting to see how viewership continues through the show's run.
"Downton Abbey" is beginning production on its fourth season. Kerger refused to disclose any tidbits when asked if Shirley MacLaine would return as a newly introduced American relative to the Crawley family.
"I'm not telling you anything about season four. Don't trick me," Kerger said, smiling.
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