Don’t read any further if you want to avoid any spoilers for the upcoming Season 4 of “Downton Abbey.” If that’s the case, you’ll also have to wall yourself off for the next five months until the hit British drama runs in the U.S. on PBS, where it has become the network’s most watched drama ever, with an average of 11.5 million total viewers, according to Nielsen.
Not only that, it’s the public broadcaster’s second most viewed program ever, after the Ken Burns docu miniseries “The Civil War.”
Across the pond, legions of fans in the U.K. will have already seen the entire new season by the time it premieres here in the States on Jan. 5, 2014. So if you really want to find out everything that happens to Lord and Lady Grantham, their scene-stealing mothers, along with Mr. and Mrs. Bates, Lady Mary, Daisy, Lady Edith, Mr. Carson and the rest of the crew, it should be as easy as ringing a bell for afternoon tea — or following the proper people on Twitter.
“The fact that people talk about it, and that word of mouth sort of travels once it premieres in the U.K., has actually benefited us,” said PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger. “So you kind of don’t want to mess with that if it’s working so well.”
She and some of the other women of the Abbey, including PBS “Masterpiece” series executive producer Rebecca Eaton, were in the spotlight during a drinks and dinner event that PBS put on Aug. 6 at the Beverly Hilton, during the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
It was the most anticipated evening of the two-week confab, coming just a day before the end of the tour and reviving the fervor of several hundred media members who participate.
There was not an empty seat in the house as a few clips from the upcoming season unspooled. Then, the cast took the stage in the ballroom.
Along with Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) and Sophie McShera (Daisy Mason), executive producer Gareth Neame was also part of the proceedings — and did his best to keep creator Julian Fellowes’ secrets from being spilled by the enthusiastic actors who bring the beloved characters to life.
With the abrupt yet expected departure of Dan Stevens’ heartthrob heir Matthew Crawley in the Season 3 finale, killed off in a car accident, Dockery’s Lady Mary is left with their newborn — and apparently several romantic suitors during the new season, which spans from February 1922 into the spring of 1923.
“Mary has more than one love interest, and she is slowly coming back to real life,” said Dockery, who has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for the second year as outstanding lead actress in a drama series.
As for Stevens’ leavetaking — it was well known that he didn’t want to renew his contract — Dockery said initially she was concerned, but that it opens up more storylines for Fellowes to write. She also revealed that her character does not have much interaction with their baby, presciently named George. “Motherhood is a slow journey for her.”
Meanwhile, as Mary and the rest of the Crawley family grieve for Matthew, Lady Edith is revealed to be what she calls the budding Carrie Bradshaw of the Roaring ’20s. Some of the modernity of the time is dramatized through her, as she revels in the rights women are gaining, and in the freer female fashion choices of the era.
Yet given the nature of what has already transpired, even Eaton couldn’t help asking aloud, “Will Edith take her dresses off?”
If it isn’t Edith’s — and Mary’s — love life that grabs you, it may be a new American cast member, the son of Shirley MacLaine’s Martha Levinson. Yes, Paul Giamatti will appear as Cora’s brother. And he may be a heavy wine drinker, or he may spar with Hugh Bonneville’s Lord Grantham.
Plus, "DA" will feature its first black cast member, Gary Carr, who plays a musician named Jack Ross.
Just another reason why the wait could be excruciating … but will likely be ultimately satisfying on many levels.