The British period drama “Downton Abbey” shattered ratings records on its season-four return Sunday to PBS. The Hollywood Reporter’s Live Feed reports that the premiere averaged 10.2 million viewers, making it the highest-rated drama in PBS history.
At the same time, it seems that the end is in sight for the popular series. The show’s creator and sole writer, Julian Fellowes, last week had this exchange with a reporter for the Wall Street Journal:
WSJ: But there will be a season 5 for "Downton"?
Julian Fellowes: Yes. I don’t know yet if there is a season 6, but it’s not going to go on forever. It won’t be "Perry Mason."
The original "Perry Mason" ran for nine seasons on CBS, starting in 1957.
As for what Fellowes will do once "Downton" ends, as previously reported, he has a deal to create a new drama series for NBC titled "The Guilded Age." Fellowes told The Journal about that upcoming project: "It will happen when ‘Downton’ finishes because I just couldn’t do both at once. I haven’t written it yet, but it’s about the old aristocracy, the Winthrops and the Stuyvesants and the new money of oil and gas and shipping in the 1870s. It will all be fiction — it won’t be real people — but when those families descended on New York, they took over. Although I am sure any Winthrop probably feels superior to a Vanderbilt or an Astor, nevertheless there is a certain element of realpolitik to this and the fact is that they delivered a certain type of American Renaissance, and became princes with their palaces on Fifth Avenue. That more puritan Edith Wharton modest aristocracy of the 18th Century in America was displaced by these princes and robber barons."
Regarding the ratings of the season four "Downton" debut this past Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, the number for the two-hour program was up 22% from last year’s premiere. The third season of “Downton Abbey” debuted in January 2013 with 7.9 million viewers, and the show went on to deliver 8.2 million viewers for the season finale — a PBS record at the time.
“As ‘Downton Abbey’s’ international audience has grown at a rapid pace over the last few years, the question of PBS airing it on a delay has often been called into question,” the THR piece notes. “The broadcaster has explored the option of debuting seasons of the show closer to their airtime on ITV, much as it does with ‘Sherlock,’ but PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger recently noted that the current schedule works.”
Kerger addressed the subject during the Television Critics Association press tour last summer, saying: "We have looked at this whole issue of spoilers and thought about how to best steward the broadcast. We look carefully at the [competition] in the fall schedule with that in mind. We look at how we get promotion and buzz about it — and that word of mouth has actually benefited us. We don’t want to mess with that if it’s working so well."