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NBC’s ‘Downton Abbey’ Special Scores International Distribution (EXCLUSIVE)

NBC’s behind-the-scenes glimpse of “Downton Abbey” is coming to the international market after Drive landed the distribution rights to the upcoming special.

Focus Features and Carnival Films’ “Downton Abbey” movie premiered in London earlier this week and hits theaters Friday. NBC has scheduled a Sept. 19 air date in the U.S. for its one-hour behind-the-scenes special, “Return to Downton Abbey: A Grand Event,” which takes in the film and series.

International broadcasters now have a chance to pick up the program as well – including in the U.K., where, to the consternation of “Downton Abbey” fans, the special does not yet have a home. The series aired for six seasons on ITV, Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster.

NBC and Focus Features commissioned “Return to Downton Abbey: A Grand Event” from Irish producer Peninsula. The international version will be called “Return to Downton Abbey.” Drive, a boutique U.K.-based finance and distribution outfit, will bring the special to market as “Downton Abbey: The Movie” is released around the world, and will give it a push at Mipcom in Cannes next month.

The special is narrated by actor Jim Carter, who played loyal butler Mr. Carson in the hit show, which sold to more than 100 territories around the world. It follows Carter on a nostalgic trip to the main “Downton Abbey” filming location – Highclere Castle – where he introduces viewers to behind-the-scenes sequences and other members of the show’s cast, including lead actor Hugh Bonneville, Lesley Nichol, Allen Leech, and Michael C. Fox.

The program also revisits some of the castle’s historical features, and explores the links between Highclere Castle’s owners, Lord and Lady Carnarvon, and the British royal family.

Former Fox and ITV executive Ronan Hand brokered the rights deal with Drive.

“The incredible access that Peninsula Television has been given to Highclere Castle offers global broadcasters a huge opportunity to acquire an evergreen tribute to all things ‘Downton Abbey,’” said Drive’s co-MD Lilla Hurst. “We are delighted to be working with Peninsula on this landmark program.”

Peninsula exec producer David Harvey said: “We are delighted Drive will be taking this extraordinary TV special to audiences around the world. With access to the principal cast and Lord and Lady Carnarvon, ‘Return to Downton Abbey’ will offer a real television treat as we go behind the scenes of ‘Downton Abbey.’”

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