'Downton Abbey' sets PBS record with 7.9 million viewers

LOS ANGELES, Jan 7 (Reuters) - British period drama "Downton
Abbey" scored rave reviews and a record 7.9 million viewers for
public broadcasting channel PBS as viewers tuned in to watch a
wedding and financial calamity during the award-winning show's
third season U.S. premiere on Sunday.

Fans witnessed the wedding of Matthew and Lady Mary Crawley,
after two seasons in which viewers were kept wondering if they
would ever tie the knot.

According to PBS, the ratings for season 3 quadrupled the
average viewings for PBS primetime shows, which usually is 2
million viewers, and nearly doubled the premiere of the second
season, which kicked off with 4.2 million viewers in January

The joy over the wedding was offset by news that Lord
Grantham, the owner of the grand estate, had lost his fortune to
bad investments.

American actress Shirley MacLaine debuted in the role of the
feisty Martha Levinson, the mother of Lord Grantham's American
wife Cora. She entertained viewers with her witty exchanges with
Downton matriarch Violet Crawley, played by Maggie Smith.

"Downton Abbey," created by British screenwriter Julian
Fellowes, has become both a critical success and a cult favorite
among its many U.S. fans.

It has won seven Emmy awards and will be going into Sunday's
Golden Globe awards with three nominations in major television
categories including best drama series.

Vanity Fair, which live-tweets humorous comments during the
show, leads a strong online following of fans who discuss
aspects of the show ranging from dresses and dances to the
dramatic twists.

"The Subcommittee on Preventing Edith's Happiness resolves
to kill off her boyfriend, put thumbtacks in her evening shoes,"
the magazine tweeted, referring to the unlucky-in-love Lady
Edith Crawley.

PBS said that the show garnered nearly 100,000 tweets during
its Sunday premiere.

(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Patricia Reaney and
Eric Walsh)