Dear 'Abbey'

'Downton Abbey' Season 4 Sets PBS Return Date

PBS announces the start date for Season 4 of 'Downton Abbey,' along with several other drama launches.

American fans of the Crawley clan can finally mark their calendars: Season 4 of Downton Abbey will kick off on PBS' Masterpiece Classic on Sunday, January 5, 2014.

Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton announced the official U.S. airdate for Season 4 of the award-winning period drama Tuesday at the PBS Annual Meeting. Downton's fourth season will run for eight weeks, from January 5 to February 23, 2014, roughly the time timeframe as its third season, which aired in the U.S. earlier this year. (In the U.K., Season 4 will air this autumn on ITV.)

"Masterpiece fans will not be disappointed: Julian [Fellowes] has done another brilliant job," Eaton wrote in an email to The Daily Beast, "this time, portraying the Downton family moving on from the tragedies of last season."

Those tragedies include the death of heir Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and youngest daughter Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay). The duo—along with Siobhan Finneran (who played devious maid Miss O'Brien)—will not be returning for a fourth installment of the Julian Fellowes-created Downton Abbey, the highest-rated drama in PBS history. A stunning 24 million total viewers tuned into Season 3 of Downton Abbey, and finale on February 17, 2012 was the top-rated show on television for the evening, beating all primetime broadcast and cable programming.Season 4 of Downton Abbey will feature Shirley MacLaine reprising her role as Martha Levinson, along with several new actors joining the cast: Tom Cullen, Nigel Harman, Dame Harriet Walter, Joanna David, Julian Ovendon, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and Gary Carr, to name a few.

PBS also announced the premiere of six-episode dramedy Last Tango in Halifax on September 8 and Season 3 of Call the Midwife, which will return to PBS in 2014. The former series become one of BBC One's top 10 highest-rated dramas for 2012, with an audience of 7.3 million viewers.

PBS described Last Tango in Halifax—which stars Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid, Sarah Lancashire, Nicola Walker, Tony Gardner, Dean Andrews, Nina Sosanya, and Ronni Ancona—as "an uplifting comedy/drama about romance and second chances. Full of zesty humor, great characters and glorious dialogue, it’s about timeless love in a modern setting."

A full plot description of Last Tango in Halifax follows: "Childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia, both widowed and in their 70s, fall for each other all over again when they are reunited over the internet after nearly 60 years. As their lives collide for a second time, the couple laments what might have been as they take audiences on a life-affirming journey together. While their relationship is a celebratory tale of the power of love at any age, it is also a story about family and the complications the relationship causes, especially for their grown daughters."

Season 3 of Call the Midwife, meanwhile, will be set in 1959 on "the eve of the Swinging Sixties," and the series will depict some of the tumultousness of the period: "The winds of change are sweeping through the country and the residents of Nonnatus House face some momentous changes of their own."

Call the Midwife has truly found a home in America and at PBS,” said executive producer Pippa Harris in a statement. “We are excited to bring the midwives back for a third season and to continue sharing the ups and downs of life in the East End for these beloved characters.”