While the U.S. premiere of Downton Abbey garnered lots of attention Sunday night as viewers got their first glance at life at the manor without Matthew, the big news came afterwards on the HoustonPBS show, Manor of Speaking, where host Ernie Manouse had an exclusive interview with the show's No. 1 fan: Barbara Bush.
In a phone interview that was recorded before her six-day hospital stay, the former first lady said she became a loyal watcher, "from the first time I saw it." She likened the plot of the sudsy drama to the works of Anthony Trollope and her favorite, Jane Austen, the author of such classics as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. "It has a lot in common with those wonderful Jane Austen stories," Bush said.
"Today in America, women are heading big corporations. I'm hoping Mary will take over the financial problems (of the estate). I see it as getting closer to us than the old days."
A loyal viewer, Bush got a sneak preview of the season-opening two-hour episode when HoustonPBS officials sent her an advance copy for the interview. She said her favorite characters are Lady Mary Crawly (played by Michelle Dockery), Mary's American mother, Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), and "of course, everyone loves Maggie Smith," who plays Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. "What an actress!," Bush said. "I love her when she has to apologize. She doesn't do it well. That's the honest truth."
Bush said that all of her female friends and family members love the show, but not the men, including her husband, former president George H.W. Bush. "He's not into it," she said.
For this season, Bush said she is looking forward to finding out happens to Mary as she recovers from the unexpected loss of her husband. "Today in America, women are heading big corporations. I'm hoping Mary will take over the financial problems (of the estate). I see it as getting closer to us than the old days," she said.
As for rumors of a romance between Mary and her brother-in-law Tom Branson, who lost his wife after she gave birth to their daughter, Bush is against it. "I want some white knight to come up and take her."
Asked if there are any similarities between life in the White House and life at the fictional Downton Abbey, Bush said an emphatic "No." She explained that the White House staff are "not servants; they're public servants, like we were. (But those) 93 people made our life happy in the White House."
HoustonPBS executives noted that the adult audience for the season four premiere of the show was the largest of any program aired on the station in the past decade. Ratings for Downton Abbey increased 66 percent over the season three premiere in January 2013. The season premiere of Manor of Speaking, a half-hour locally produced show in which a panel discusses the night's episode, scored a whopping 330 percent increase over the series premiere a year ago.
See the Manor of Speaking Barbara Bush interview: