Even with the ending of the entire "Dowton Abbey" third season spoiled
by many who read news accounts of one key cast member's departure from the series, which already concluded in the UK, the PBS "Masterpiece Classic" debut on Sunday drew a preliminary Nielsen average of 7.9 million viewers
. The new season adds Shirley MacLaine as Elizabeth McGovern's mother, who gives dowager Maggie Smith a run for her money.
"Downton" drew four times the average PBS primetime household rating-- 5.1--and nearly doubled last year's Season Two premiere total of 4.2 million viewers. The finale had drawn 5.4 million and a 3.5 household rating: the highest PBS number since Ken Burns' 2009 "National Parks" premiere.