Such Sweet Sorrow: Idaho Celebrates a Final Visit to Downton Abbey 

Friends of Idaho Public Television get a glimpse of the premiere of the sixth and final season.

Hundreds of Boise fans of Downton Abbey tipped their hats and bonnets to the PBS juggernaut as Idaho Public Television hosted an exclusive screening of the program's sixth and final season premiere, Dec. 14 at Boise's Egyptian Theatre.

Laurie Pearman

Hundreds of Boise fans of Downton Abbey tipped their hats and bonnets to the PBS juggernaut as Idaho Public Television hosted an exclusive screening of the program's sixth and final season premiere, Dec. 14 at Boise's Egyptian Theatre.

In an age where the term "gold standard" is bandied about freely, Downtown Abbey is platinum. Public television has seen several landmarks:puppets teaching multiple generations of kids on Sesame Street; premiere broadcasts from Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera in the 1970s; and Ken Burns' American trilogy of documentaries, Baseball, The Civil War and Jazz. But we may never see the likes of Downton Abbey again.

"It's terrifically successful in Idaho, across the world really," said Ron Pisaneschi, general manager of Idaho Public Television. "And what surprised us from the very beginning was that it attracted much more than the typical Masterpiece Theater audience. The demographics are rather astounding: folks watching with their children, college parties in dormitories. It's a phenomenon that was pretty hard to predict."

The series, chronicling the Crawley family through the United Kingdom's post-Edwardian years, debuted in the United States in January 2011 and was a near-instant success, drawing more than 5,000,0000 viewers each week.

"It's the highest rated drama in PBS history," Pisaneschi told Boise Weekly the evening of December 14, preparing to take the stage of Boise's Egyptian Theatre, a tailor-made historic showcase for what would be IDPTV's Christmas gift to Boise: an exclusive screening of Downton Abbey's sixth (and final) season premiere. IDPTV packed the theatre for the evening, the first of three Downton Abbey season premiere previews in Idaho. IDPTV will hold similar events Wednesday, Dec. 16 in Coeur d'Alene and Friday, Dec. 18 in Idaho Falls.

"But in spite of our cajoling, our pleading and even our whining, this is it for Downton Abbey. Sad to say, this is the final season," said Pisaneschi from the stage of the Egyptian, his remarks met by a sad-to-say collective, "Awwww," from the audience.

"So, when Downton Abbey is over, what will we have to love?," Pisaneschi asked. "I have good news and two words for you: Mercy Street." He had the audience's full-attention, promising that Mercy Street, a U.S. Civil War-era medical drama debuting Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, could be public television's most-buzzed-about show next year. "So yes, there is hope after Downton Abbey."

First things first: Downton Abbey's aristocratic Crawley clan (and their many servants) still have plenty of loose ends to tie-up in their final episodes, which airs on Sundays on PBS, beginning Jan. 3. And while we won't spoil any of that fun here, we can tell you that that the season premiere doesn't disappoint. There's a mysterious visitor, a scandalous tryst, blackmail, a heartbreaking lost pregnancy and a resolution to one of the series' major plotlines. Quite simply, the season six premiere episode has a little bit of everything.

Watching Downton Abbey with a theater full of fans (about a third attended in Edwardian-era costume) was an extra delight as the audience booed and hissed the entrance of bad boy butler Thomas Barrow (played with steely-eyed glee by Rob James-Collier), and openly cheered and belly-laughed at Maggie Smith's delicious portrayal of Downton Abbey's dowager countess. Over the years, Smith has delivered some of the best lines in television history, including: "Principles are like prayers; noble of course but awkward at a party" and "A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears."

Indeed, parting will be sweet sorrow when we bid of final adieus. Let's enjoy it while we may.

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