2:35pm PT by Michael O'Connell
'Downton Abbey' Renewed for Season 5
Downton Abbey still stands. The Emmy-winning drama from Julian Fellowes has been renewed for a fifth season -- make that series, for fans in its native U.K. -- and will continue to air on PBS' Masterpiece Classics and ITV.
The period piece, which recently wrapped its fourth season in Great Britain, raking an average audience of 11.8 million viewers, won't see its stateside return until Jan. 5. That lengthy delay has yet to dampen Downton's ratings momentum. The third run grossed 24 million viewers, making it PBS' most watched drama to date.
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"Like millions of other Downton fans, I can't wait to see what's next for the Crawley family," said PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger. "We're proud to be the home of this extraordinarily entertaining series, and, along with our stations, we look forward to sharing season five with U.S. audiences."
Though Downton Abbey's fourth season is technically in the can in the U.K., the annual Christmas special -- which will conclude the U.S. run on February 23 -- has yet to air.
Downton Abbey is a Carnival Films and Masterpiece co-production, with EP Fellowes still shouldering all the writing duties.
"Audiences have enjoyed their regular Sunday evening visits back to Downton once again this autumn, and we are thrilled to produce a new series of the show next year," added EP and Carnival managing director Gareth Neame. "We promise all the usual highs and lows, romance, drama and comedy played out by some of the most iconic characters on television. All the actors and makers of the show continue to be humbled by the extraordinary audience response and want to take the show from strength to strength next year."
Though a Downton renewal was more than likely, given the series' massive international popularity, it was not obligatory. The series has lost two castmembers in the last year -- including one, Dan Stevens, due to the lack of commitment required of TV actors in the U.K. -- and the production is demanding on Oscar-winning Fellowes, who remains a hot commodity outside the series.
"As far as we know, we're all doing season five next year," Neame told reporters at the Television Critics Association this past August. "Beyond that, we really don't know."
For now, PBS is likely very anxious to continue to reap the unprecedented buzz that surrounds their pop culture darling.
"As American audiences ready themselves for the January 5th premiere of season four, our devoted Downton fans will rest easy knowing that a fifth season is on the way," said Masterpiece EP Rebecca Eaton.