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Posted at 10:20 AM ET, 05/14/2013

‘Downton Abbey’ Season 4 to premiere Jan. 5


Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary (Nick Briggs - PBS)
“Downton Abbey’s” fourth season will debut on PBS on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, “Masterpiece” exec producer Rebecca Eaton announced Tuesday at the PBS Annual Meeting.

So all those reporters who hinted that “Downton” obsessives might get to see the franchise’s fourth season sooner than they had been able to see the third season weren’t pulling your leg —the third season had debuted on Jan 6 of this year.

Meanwhile, PBS has bought U.S. broadcast rights to BBC’s critically acclaimed drama, “Last Tango in Halifax.”

Derek Jacobi (“The King’s Speech,” “The Borgias,” “My Week with Marilyn,” “I, Claudius”) stars as Alan, and Anne Reid (“Upstairs, Downstairs”) plays Celia in this six-part comedy/drama about childhood sweethearts, both widowed and in their 70’s, who fall for each other again when re-united via the internet after nearly six decades.

“‘What if’ is a question that haunts all of us, but in the hands of Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, and the larger cast of “Last Tango in Halifax,” it becomes a hugely thoughtful and funny look at love and loss and hope,” series exec producer Nicole Shindler explained of her project, which PBS described as being “full of zesty humor, great characters and glorious dialogue.”

As part of the deal with BBC Worldwide North America Sales & Distribution, PBS also has secured broadcast rights to the third season of “Call the Midwife.” That season, premiering in 2014, brings viewers back to East London in 1959, on the eve of the turbulent 60’s.

“Last Tango in Halifax” will premiere Sunday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. leading into the finale of the “Masterpiece Mystery!” courtroom drama “Silk.”

The premiere of “Last Tango in Halifax” was one of BBC One’s Top-10 rated drama series of 2012, attracting 7.3 million viewers. A second season has been ordered in the UK, written by Sally Wainwright (“At Home with the Braithwaites,” “Scott and Baily,” “Unforgiven”) and directed by Euros Lynn (“Sherlock,” “Black Mirror”) and Sam Donovan (“Skins,” “Secret Diary of a Call Girl”).

“We’re pleased to add this new series and to continue our partnership on ‘Call the Midwife,’ solidifying Sunday nights as our highest-rated night of the week,” said PBS’s chief programming exec Beth Hoppe. (PBS’s Sunday nights at 8 p.m., when “Call the Midwife” has aired, are up 24 percent in ratings over last season.)

“Downton,” however, remains the gold standard for British programming on PBS. The fourth season of “Downton,” the highest rated drama in PBS history, will run eight weeks, wrapping on Feb. 23.

About 24 million viewers tuned in to the third season of “Downton”; when its finale aired on Feb. 17, more people watched that emotional walloping than any other program on broadcast or cable TV that night.

Casting news for the fourth season of the series, produced by NBCUniversal division, Carnival, includes the return of Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson, and the addition of several new cast members: Tom Cullen, Nigel Harman, Dame Harriet Walter, Joanna David, Julian Ovendon, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Gary Carr.

They join returning Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, among the large-ish “Downton” “family.”

By  |  10:20 AM ET, 05/14/2013

 
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