Downton Abbey is a British television period drama series, produced by British media company Carnival Films for the ITV network. The series is set during the late Edwardian era (after Edward VII's death) and the First World War on the fictional estate of Downton Abbey in Yorkshire, and features an ensemble cast. It was created and principally written by actor and writer Julian Fellowes, and premiered on ITV on 26 September 2010.

Reception of the programme was predominantly positive; ratings were extremely high for what is usually considered a 'genre' show, and the first series picked up a number of awards and nominations after its initial run. It has subsequently become the most successful British costume drama since the 1981 television serial version of Brideshead Revisited, and in 2011 it entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the 'most critically acclaimed television show' for the year, becoming the first British show to win the accolade.

Series One

The first series started on 26 September 2010, and explored the lives of the Crawley family and their staff from the day after the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912 to the outbreak of the First World War on 4 August 1914. Much of the focus is on the need for a male heir to the Grantham estate, and the troubled love life of Lady Mary as she attempts to find herself a suitable husband. The device that sets the drama in motion is the entail that accompanies the (fictional) Earldom of Grantham, which endows both title and estate exclusively to heirs male. This is complicated by the fact that the estate had been near financial ruin, and was only saved when the present Earl, then the heir apparent, married an extremely rich American heiress. Upon marriage, her considerable fortune was contractually incorporated into the comital entail in perpetuity. The Earl, having had only three daughters and no son, had arranged for his elder daughter to marry her cousin, and son to the heir presumptive, thus keeping both title and estate within the immediate family. The demise of both heirs presumptive in the sinking of the Titanic destroys the family plans and brings a distant cousin, a young solicitor from Manchester, in line to inherit everything, including the personal wealth of the Countess, who will not be able to bequeath it to her daughters.

Series Two

In 2010, Laura Mackie, ITV Director of Drama Commissioning, confirmed that the drama would return for a second series in 2011: We're delighted with the audience response to Downton Abbey and the positive critical reaction. We're extremely proud to have commissioned a series which has clearly captivated ITV1 viewers. Consequently, we're thrilled to be announcing the recommission of a new series for 2011 which will allow us to spend more time with the Crawley family and their servants.

The second series premiered in the UK on 18 September 2011, and is due to do so in the U.S. on 8 January 2012. There will also be a Christmas special.

The series comprises eight episodes, running from the Battle of the Somme in 1916 to the Spanish 'flu pandemic in 1919. Social equality, redemption and death are big themes of this series. Matthew Crawley, Thomas, and William Mason are off fighting in the war; Tom Branson, an Irishman, is unsure that he wants to fight for the British; and Lord Grantham cannot serve due to his age. Lady Sybil Crawley defies her aristocratic position and joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Filming began in March 2011.

Michelle Dockery, Dame Maggie Smith, Brendan Coyle, Rob James-Collier, Dan Stevens, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Joanne Froggatt, Phyllis Logan and Allen Leech all returned and Cal Macaninch, Iain Glen, Amy Nuttall, Zoe Boyle and Maria Doyle Kennedy joined the cast as the new valet Lang, Sir Richard Carlisle, the new Housemaid Ethel, Miss Lavinia Swire and John Bates' wife Vera respectively. Nigel Havers and Sharon Small will appear in the Christmas special, as Lord Hepworth and Marigold Shore, Lady Rosamund's maid, respectively.

Series Three

It was confirmed at the preview of the second series, at Highclere Castle on 29 July 2011, that Fellowes was working on a third series, set after the Armistice and during the 1920s. Amy Nuttall will not return for the third series.

ITV confirmed the commissioning of a third series on 3 November 2011. It will enter production in early 2012, and be broadcast from September 2012.

According to the Independant Catholic Julian Fellows has stated that there will be a Catholic storyline in the future. He would not say if it would be in the Christmas special or in series 3.

Source: wiki