TV & FILM

'Downton Abbey': PBS Considers Airing Season 4 Closer To UK Air Date

FILE - In this file photo released by PBS, Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley, left, and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary are shown
FILE - In this file photo released by PBS, Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley, left, and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary are shown in a scene from the second season on "Downton Abbey." The program was nominated for an Emmy award for outstanding drama series on Thursday, July 19, 2012. The 64th annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be presented Sept. 23 at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and airing live on ABC. (AP Photo/PBS, Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE, File)

The third season of "Downton Abbey" is premiering on PBS next month, and the network's executives are already looking ahead to the series' fourth season will hit the airwaves stateside.

“The audiences for 'Downton' have been terrific,” senior VP and PBS’ chief programming executive John Wilson noted in an interview with THR. “So you can’t say that [airing months earlier in the UK] has knocked the legs out from underneath 'Downton Abbey.' On the other hand, we can’t know how much more terrific it might have been had it aired closer to the UK premiere.”

Wilson added that the network is assessing the possibility of airing Season 4 of "Downton Abbey" closer to the UK premiere date. Though that would make US fans happy, one thing about Season 4 is still upsetting: Dan Stevens' decision to duck out of the series.

Stevens, who plays Lady Mary's (Michelle Dockery) love interest Matthew Crawley, will reportedly only appear in the first episode of the "Downton's" fourth season. And according to series creator Julian Fellowes, his role won't be recast.

“Sometimes actors feel they want to move on. Initially, for the first two or three [seasons] you can contract them, but after that, every season, you have to re-contract them,” Fellowes told EW. "If they don’t want to come back, there’s nothing we can do.”

Season 3 of "Downton Abbey" will premiere on Sunday, January 6 on PBS.

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