The real "Downton Abbey" revealed

It's as British as tea and crumpets, but "Downton Abbey" has found a home here in the U.S.

The very high-class soap opera from the U.K. has taken the U.S. by storm, scooping six Emmys, cleaning up at the Golden Globes, and on Super Bowl Sunday, was second in viewers only to the game itself.

This cultural phenomenon has cornered the market in British snobbery and catapulted it to cool.

Downton Abbey
"Downton Abbey" no more than escapist kitsch

Jessica Shaw, of Entertainment Weekly, said of the show, "People are obsessed with these characters, people are in love with some of them; it has taken on a real life of its own."

"Downton" is the addictive tale of a family of British aristocrats and their servants that starts with the sinking of the Titanic and winds through the savagery of World War I.

But the star of the show -- where all this plays out -- is Downton Abbey itself. In real life, it's Highclere Castle in Newbury, an imposing Victorian mansion surrounded by green hills in the English countryside. It's also home to the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. The estate has between 50 to 80 bedrooms.

Every morning when "Downton Abbey" character Earl of Grantham descends the estate's steps, you never know what the day is going to bring. But what "Downton Abbey" delivers, is no matter what crisis, or drama unfolds, there is a sense of place, you always know where you stand.

Why the obsession with the splendor of British aristocracy at a time of deep economic uncertainty in the United States is anybody's guess. Perhaps, there's something oddly comforting in the rigid class structure "Downton" presents.

Fiona, Lady Carnarvon told CBS News she's "absolutely" been surprised by the show's popularity.

"You couldn't predict it," Lady Carnavon said. "If anybody could predict it, I'm sure they'd be making more series like it. It has been amazing."

It's a formula that works. If there is one thing history has shown, it's that we all love a good love story -- one where in the end the boy gets the girl -- and the house.

On "CBS This Morning," CBS News correspondent Mo Rocca and legal analyst Jack Ford discussed the draw of the show.

Mo Rocca said people long for a society when there were more rules. "It's a great drama. It's a great melodrama," he said. "I think that part of the attraction is that people have a romantic longing for a time when there were more rules, rituals and a sense of duty. I think in a culture where anything goes, in pop culture and real life, I think (there is) something exotic about this."

Ford added, "It's not quite 'Jersey Shore.' But you know what it is, it's smart, and clever and witty and it has just the hint of trashiness that gets people. ... It's carving out its own niche. If you were making a Hollywood pitch, this is something-meets-something else, I'm not sure what the something else would be here."

The show has, of course, its draw with women, Erica Hill noted, but many men are also interested in it.

"There's so much going on behind these doors," Ford said. "You have the history, the World War I, the first season opens up with the Titanic going down. World War I, seeing the shooting scenes where I think a lot of the men would say, 'That would be cool. I'd like to do this.'"

The house is larger than any individual character, Mo Rocca said.

"It's larger than any of individual character," he added. "It's the idea that men have this sense of duty that I think attracts a lot of men, and a lot of characters are struggling between what they should do and what they want to do."

Ford said, "(The draw) -- it's hard to capture it. We have a fascination aristocracy."

Watch the video in the player above to see the real Downton Abbey -- Highclere Castle -- for yourself.

  • Charlie D'Agata

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