'Downton Abbey' Adds First Recurring Black Character

Gary Carr joins the hit drama four season 4, while its executive producer says the show will launch its own clothing and furniture lines.

LONDON – Downton Abbey is ramping up its roster of fresh cast members, inking a deal with Gary Carr (TV's Death In Paradise) for the hit British costume drama's fourth season.

Carr will be the show's first recurring black cast member, playing a "charming and charismatic" young jazz singer.

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes said in November that it would be “rather nice to open it up ethnically a bit,” amid criticism from some over the lack of ethnic diversity among the cast. 

Carr joins fellow newbie cast members Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Tom Cullen, Julian Ovenden, Nigel Harman, Joanna David and Dame Harriet Walter, who are all set to carry significant roles in season four.

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Production banner Carnival Films and U.K. commercial broadcaster ITV today announced Carr's casting May 1.

Carnival Films managing director Gareth Neame said: "His [Carr's character] addition will bring interesting twists to the drama, which we can’t wait for viewers to see in [season four]."

As well as filming an eight-part fourth season, Downton Abbey will return Christmas 2013 with another feature-length episode.

The new season will see the return of Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson alongside series regulars Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery and Jim Carter.

Downton Abbey's executive producer Gareth Neame also confirmed Tuesday that the show will soon be expanding its franchise with the launch of clothing, furniture and homewares lines. In an interview with CNBC, Neame said, “We’ll be working across an entire range of products coming out this year. From fashion, apparel and homeware and furniture to wallpapers, beauty products and stationary.”

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The launch of product lines loosely modeled on the show's handsome period costumes and set decoration had long been anticipated. Neame explained that the show's slow move into merchandising was part of an “extremely cautious” strategy. “No one wants to launch products if the show’s going to be a flop,” he added.

Those concerns have now been decidedly assuaged. In the U.K., Downton Abbey's third season was the most watched drama of 2012, averaging 11.9 million consolidated viewers, while the show also broke records in the U.S. recently with season three's finale beating all broadcast and cable competition to become the highest rated show on American television that evening.

The show, which aired on Masterpiece on PBS, averaged 11.5 million viewers. The finale averaged 12.3 million viewers.

Downton Abbey is a Carnival/Masterpiece co-production.

Carnival is a division of NBC Universal.

Written by Oscar winner Fellowes, Downton Abbey is executive produced by Neame, Fellowes and Liz Trubridge.