Downton Abbey
Jan 4 at 8
Manor of Speaking
Jan 4 at 9
Houston Public Media, Channel 8
houstonpublicmedia.org 

Downton Abbey returns to PBS on Sunday night for its fifth season, and that means Manor of Speaking, the Houston Public Media–produced talkback show hosted by Ernie Manouse, is also returning. Now in its third season, the half-hour show airs immediately after each Downton episode and features four guests discussing, dissecting, and occasionally dissing each episode, plus taped interviews with people like Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the owner of the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle.

This year, however, you don’t have to be a Houstonian to enjoy Manor of Speaking—the show has been picked up by several PBS affiliates around the country. This necessitated a major adjustment in how the show is produced. In past seasons, the show was broadcast live from Houston Public Media’s studios on the UH campus; this year, because Downton Abbey doesn’t air at the same time across the country, the shows will be taped ahead of time.

To see how this would work, I recently joined the studio audience for the debut taping. First the audience—about 50 Houstonians of all ages, including several in period dress— was led into a screening room and shown the first episode of the new Downton Abbey season. We were enjoined by the staff to keep the content of that episode a strict secret, so I won’t divulge anything about the new season other than to say that Lady Mary flirts, Lord Grantham acts grumpy, Lady Violet meddles, and Thomas hatches a dasterdly scheme—in other words, exactly what happens in every episode.

Following the screening we were marched to a different studio, where Ernie Manouse, immaculately coiffed as always and wearing his trademark wide-lapelled black suit, quizzed the four guests about the show. A featherduster-equipped butler, “Mr. Rodgers,” played with droll perfection by Luke Wrobel, delivered questions from the audience to Ernie (“Your tweets, my Lord”). About the guests—the two regulars on the show are both genuine Brits, Houston Public Media arts guru St. John Flynn and Helen Mann, a former Vice Consul of the British Consulate. The other two spots are filled by a rotating cast that has included Rice English professor Robert Patton, Alley Theatre artistic director Gregory Boyd, and socialite Joanne King Herring. I would tell you who the special guests were on the show I saw taped, but then Mr. Rodgers would hunt me down and stab me to death with that featherduster.

Unfortunately for my fellow Downton-loving Houstonians, the studio audiences for all remaining Manor of Speaking tapings have already been filled. If you want to see Ernie and the gang work their magic, well, you’ll have to tune in for yourself this Sunday. 

 

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