Downton Abbey Series 4 Premiere Date Set for PBS

It’s official: the highly-anticipated fourth series of blockbuster costume drama Downton Abbey has an American premiere date! The series is set to return to Masterpiece on Sunday, January 5, 2014 and will run for eight weeks, concluding on February 23. So, if you’ve been waiting for confirmation to get started making your elaborate Series 4 countdown calendars, party hats or other paraphernalia, well, now you know.

Series 4 will feature the return of series regulars Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, the indomitable Dame Maggie Smith and more. Several new guest stars are also set to join the fray as well, including Gary Carr, Tom Cullen, Nigel Harman, Joanna David, Julian Ovenden, Dame Harriet Walter, and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.  Oh, and Shirley MacLaine will also be back as Cora’s mother Martha and newcomer Lily James is sticking around as wild child Cousin Rose. So you know, looks like there’s still plenty of drama in store for us this year. 

Sadly, this official news does mean that Americans are in for a multi-month battle to avoid spoilers following the UK broadcast of Downton this fall (it’s likely to screen on ITV in September, as Series 3 did). But, given the fact that the US broadcasts of Downton broke ratings records, averaging around 11 million viewers per episode when you factor live viewing and seven days worth of DVR numbers, there’s basically little incentive to mess with what isn’t broken. Downton’s audience has grown each year and it’s officially the most-watched program in PBS history by far.

While frustrating in some ways, leaving Downton in January does ensure that the drama doesn’t have to compete with new Fall series on the major broadcast networks and builds in time for the editing process that’s necessary to rework the episodes for US airings - since they air with commercials in the UK. The Downton juggernaut is growing (which in and of itself is quite remarkable for a show entering its fourth season) and a lot of that likely has to do with where it’s placed in the TV schedule.  All of this is to say that I understand the reasoning behind the broadcast delay, even if as a fan I find it personally frustrating just as much as any of you. So, let’s all put our heads together and come up with something to entertain ourselves with during the hiatus and, remember, we’ve only got 235 days to go!