"Downton Abbey" has received a fourth-season renewal from British network ITV, reports TheWrap.com. However, according to the Sunday Express in the U.K., "Just as a fourth series and Christmas special were announced, it emerged that romantic lead Dan Stevens, 30, who plays Matthew Crawley, is leaving. A well-placed production source told the Sunday Express: ‘Dan Stevens isn’t returning to the series. He will probably do the first episode of the fourth series, but that will be it.’
"ITV would not confirm or deny Stevens’s departure. However, it is thought he will appear in the Christmas show. The two-hour episode, described as a tearjerker, will see the Grantham family head to Scotland for a break, leaving most of the servants at home."
The article adds, "It is not clear how or when Stevens will exit the show. In the last series his character Matthew guaranteed the future of the Downton estate with a surprise inheritance. His relationship with Lady Mary, and then their marriage, has been the main plotline through the three series of Downton Abbey. His departure is seen as a major blow."
Reports AceShowBiz, "Stevens is currently starring on Broadway’s play ‘The Heiress’ alongside Jessica Chastain. He once shared his plan to stay in New York after the show’s over, saying, ‘New York for me is going to be one big adventure. I will be taking the whole family out and we will be there for six months. I don’t know if I will be returning to Downton.’ "
"Abbey," said to be the most successful British costume drama on television since “Brideshead Revisited” in 1981, airs on PBS in the U.S.
The new season will have eight episodes, with a fall 2013 debut planned, TheWrap reports. It will also include an extended episode for Christmas 2013. The fourth season will begin filming in February.