If PBS is hot these days, and it is, a lot of the heat is coming from one show: Downton Abbey.
Having won every award possible last year, including an Emmy for best miniseries, the show could be gearing up for an even more impressive roll. Just this week, it was nominated for 16 Emmys in the series category. Add that to the nominations it received last season, and Downton is now the most honored non-American series ever.
How do the actors feel about that? "Gobsmacked. I don't know whether it translates. Overwhelmed," says Hugh Bonneville, who plays Lord Crawley. "To have the show embraced so wholeheartedly from America is a great thrill for all of us."
And the thrill isn't over. Downton returns in January for a third season - and "this season," says creator Julian Fellowes, "in a way is about the recovery from the war. ... That's really the kind of theme of the season. There are chills and thrills involved for all the characters."
As a bonus, this year those characters will include Cora's America's mother. And even better, she's played by Shirley MacLaine, who says sharing a press conference with the other actors is like "being back with my family. It was an extraordinary experience for me, also for stamina and work ethic. We were shooting outside in the wind and the rain with our formal gear on and nobody seemed to notice, so I quickly stepped in there and acted like I didn't notice, either. ... I had a fabulous time, I shall never forget it."
Was MacLaine a fan of the show before? No, she'd never seen it - but she had met her co-star, Maggie Smith. "We were lovers in a previous life."
She's joking, of course. Actually, she says, Smith reminded her that the two had met backstage many years ago at the Oscars, standing near a chocolate cake. MacLaine had been nominated, and lost. And she says Smith told her, "You know what you did dear? You tucked right into that chocolate cake and said '(blank) it, I don't care if I'm ever thin again.' "
With World War I behind it, Downton is now entering the 1920s - and that, says Fellowes is where it will stay. He has no interest to push forward to the '30s. "The '20s are a far more nebulous time," he says. "I think it's rather fun to be journeying through that stuff. ... I think we'll be moving fairly slowly."
When a show is this hot, it inspires a host of pop culture spinoffs. For Downton, one of those fads was an Internet quiz where you could find out which Downton character you would be.
Asked if any of them took the quiz, Brendan Coyle, who plays Bates, raised his hand. "I'm Lady Mary. I'm really happy about it."
Almost, it seems, as happy as Bonneville - who ended the press session by unbuttoning his shirt to show us his T-shirt. And what did it say?