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TCA Summer 2012 Press Tour: 'Downton Abbey'- 'Free Bates'

Posted by Sarah Rodman  July 22, 2012 02:01 PM

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MASTERPIECE CLASSIC: ?Downton Abbey, Season 3?- Hugh Bonneville
[Photo: Rahoul Ghose/PBS]

BEVERLY HILLS, CA--

The Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press tour kicked off at the Beverly Hilton yesterday with presentations by PBS, including a cooking demonstration by Martha Stewart for her new series "Martha Stewart's Cooking School" premiering in October and musical performances by some of the high school thespians featured in the upcoming "Broadway or Bust" series premiering Sept. 9.

The day's buzziest session, however, was the panel featuring the producers and some of the cast of "Downton Abbey," the period drama that received 16 Emmy nominations last week.

Actors Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora Crawley), Joanne Froggatt (Anna), Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates), and Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley) were all on hand, as was new addition Shirley MacLaine, who plays Martha Levinson, mother to Cora. Creator Julian Fellowes and executive producers Rebecca Eaton and Gareth Neame also fielded questions about the runaway hit series, which begins its third season Stateside in January.

At the start of the session, Eaton introduced a trailer for season three full of twists and turns for both the upstairs and downstairs contingents of "Downton."  Without spoiling anything there will be new troubles for Lord and Lady Grantham, a bumpy road to the aisle for Lady Mary and Matthew, and struggles to prove the innocence of the imprisoned Mr. Bates.

There was plenty of talk about the Emmy nominations -- Coyle, Froggatt, Dockery, and Bonneville all received individual acting nods -- and Fellowes talked a bit about season three, promising "some laughs and some tears."  MacLaine stole the show talking about how her hairdresser turned her on to the show and joking that she and Dame Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess) were "lovers in another life."

But it was Bonneville who got the last, and biggest, laugh. Asked about the nature of his character Lord Grantham, Bonneville began to answer but then he started undoing his tie. He then stood and turned his back to the roomful of TV critics. He ripped his shirt open and whipped around to reveal the t-shirt above-- "Free Bates"-- drawing cheers and laughter from not only the crowd but his fellow cast mates and producers.

For more on the TCA summer press tour this week follow along on Twitter @GlobeRodman

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