TV Column: PBS drama ‘Downton Abbey’ posts record ratings


From left, Eden Gaha, Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova, Coco Rocha and Nigel Barker promote their new Oxygen network program “The Face” on a press tour. (Ben Cohen/AP)
January 7, 2013

It’s Security Clampdown Day at Winter TV Press Tour 2013. Naomi Campbell came to the tour to plug her pick-a-model competition series, “The Face,” for the NBC/Universal-owned chick network, Oxygen.

“I will get off the stage and decrease the ugly quotient immediately,” Oxygen senior VP Rod Aissa said after introducing the show’s three supermodel coaches: Campbell, in chic ivory satin slacks and vest; the Czech-born Victoria Secret hottie Karolina Kurkova, in a pretty blue sheath; and Canadian-born Coco Rocha, looking like some creature in an Edward Gorey book.

“There was a report that you were attacked awhile back in Paris and were hurt – was that the case and are you okay now?” a reporter asked Campbell, who’d hobbled to her seat on stage.

“I had an injury with my knee and I am on the mend, and I cannot discuss any further as there is an investigation,” Campbell answered cryptically.

According to media coverage, Paris police reported that two thieves on a motorcycle attempted to grab her handbag in November as she sat in a limousine in central Paris. She suffered a torn leg ligament. She thinks that they deliberately targeted her and that they might strike again.

One critic asked Campbell why she was doing this show, and why now.

It was the idea of taking what she’d learned in her 26 years in the business and “giving it over to young, hopeful supermodels,” said the woman who, in 2000, admitted throwing a mobile phone at her personal assistant.

During the show’s competition, “we are their everything, not only their mentors. . . . I would want to take them out, pamper them,” continued the woman who, in 2007, was ordered to perform community service after assaulting her housekeeper.

“I’m not a shrink, a certified shrink, but I felt like one because I had to, like, be there to hear everything — their family history, their background, their tragedies, their ups and downs. . . . I felt an overall protection to all the girls,” said the Brit-born supermodel who, several years ago, was banned from flying on British Airways for spitting at two police officers during an argument at Heathrow Airport.

When Campbell began to talk about helping the girls grow thick skins, Coco finally spoke up.

“When you guys get rejected, it’s because of a story that you wrote, because it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t write correctly, whatever,” Coco told TV critics, looking like something that might have occurred to Chekov in one of his less silly moments.

“But for us, you look at us and you go, ‘I don’t like her nose.’ That’s it. That’s why I didn’t get the job. ‘I don’t like her thighs.’ That’s it.”

When the session wrapped, security guards blocked TV critics from coming onstage for the usual post-Q&A scrum. Standing behind Campbell was the friendly, enormous bodyguard who’d been planted outside the elevator on the floor of the hotel where we’re staying, ever since NBCUniversal descended on the tour.

Instead, Campbell took a few questions from TV critics standing in front of the stage before her entourage circled her to block critics’ view.

She hobbled off the stage and was greeted backstage with applause.

‘Downton’s’ upside

Nearly 8 million people caught Sunday’s third-season debut of “Downton Abbey” on PBS — the crunchy-gravel drama’s biggest audience ever, according to early stats.

The season opener nearly doubled the 4 million who watched PBS’s unveiling of the second-season debut. Sunday’s opening number also is quadruple PBS’s average prime-time performance.

Overall, that second season wound up the most-watched series in the “Masterpiece” franchise’s history. But this season seems bound to eclipse that and set a new “Masterpiece” record.

From 9 to 11 p.m. Sunday, PBS was the second-most-watched broadcast network, behind only CBS with its original episodes of “The Good Wife” and “The Mentalist,” according to early, metered-market numbers.

According to those early stats, 11 percent of homes in Washington (in which TVs were turned on Sunday night between 9 to 11 p.m.) were watching “Downton.”

“I’m thrilled to see so many viewers return to the Crawley family’s delicious drama and intrigue,” “Masterpiece” exec producer Rebecca Eaton said Monday.

“Downton” first hit PBS on Jan. 9, 2011. This season rejoins the story as World War I is over and the engagement of Lady Mary and Matthew is on. And Shirley MacLaine has joined the cast, to chew some scenery, pitted against Maggie Smith. Our money’s on Maggie.

Letterman: Oprah therapy

Watching Oprah Winfrey probe David Letterman on “Oprah’s Next Chapter” Sunday night was like intruding on someone’s therapy session. Except that shrinks aren’t that self-satisfied.

Sitting with the CBS late-night host at his alma mater — Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. — Oprah grilled Dave on his personal life, including that extortion case, reports The Post’s Emily Yahr.

You remember: Former “60 Minutes” producer Robert “Joe” Halderman attempted to blackmail Letterman, saying he knew that the host had slept with female staffers over the years on the “Late Show.”

Because something like that has never happened in the entertainment industry.

Except that Letterman outmaneuvered Halderman, revealing the situation on his CBS show. Halderman ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in jail.

Anyway, Dave told Oprah that it was a very difficult time for his wife (a former show staffer whom he married in March 2009), but that the incident brought them closer together.

Oprah: “Did you have to sleep on the couch?”

Letterman: “I slept in a wide variety of places.”

Oprah grilled Dave awhile about why he has a low threshold for embarrassment, yet has no problem embarrassing other people.

She has just described virtually every late-night TV host.

“What is that, Dave?” Oprah asked with a sort of grim geniality.

“I don’t know. You, and I, and my psychiatrist should get together and we’ll have a conversation on exactly that point,” Dave snarked.

“Do you see a psychiatrist?” asked Oprah, sensing the next days’s headline.

“Yes, I do,” Dave said.

“Regularly?” Oprah urged.

Dave paused.

“Is once a week regular?”

Oprah laughed. Dave won.

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