There's no denying that Julian Fellowes' 'Downton Abbey' is a mammoth success. The series wrapped up its third season last night with a whopping 10.1 million viewers and a 39.1% share in the UK. It's no wonder that ITV was eager to greenlight Fellowes' loosely-related reality series about British estates.
The third season was, overall, the highest-rated season of the show to date. Already a hit after two initial seasons, the fandom for 'Downton Abbey' continues to grow--likely as new viewers catch up on what they missed via DVD sales. The third season averaged 9.7 million viewers an episode... and yet a fourth season of the period drama remains in jeopardy.
You'd think that the network would do whatever it took to keep this incredible money-making crowd-pleaser on the air for another season (hell, 'Long Island Medium' received a full fourth-season order, why not 'Abbey?') but the problem may not lie with the production side of things. 'Abbey' has launched several of its key talents to stardom including Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Jessica Brown Findlay and Lesley Nichol; the value of these actors has never been higher, and with such demand comes difficult choices moving forward.
Dan Stevens, for one, has been hesitant to throw his name in the ring for a fourth season of 'Downton Abbey.' Presently enjoying a successful broadway run opposite the lovely Jessica Chastain ('Take Shelter,' 'The Help') in "The Heiress," Stevens recently told the Wall Street Journal "I think we’ll have to wait and see really," regarding a fourth 'Abbey' season. "You do feel a certain obligation to shows that raise your profile like 'Downtown' has," he continued, "but there are definitely other exciting opportunities out there."
Despite season three coming to a close and season four remaining up in the air, fans have not seen the last of 'Downton Abbey:' a special 2-hour feature-length episode is slated to air on December 25th in the UK (though it will not be holiday-themed). The intent behind the special episode is to tie up any remaining loose-ends from existing plot-lines... which sounds to me like 'Abbey' producers are covering their behinds just in case the network can't lock down season four.
The third season of 'Downton Abbey' doesn't begin to air in the US until January 6, 2013; like the previous two seasons, 'Abbey' will be picked up across the pond by PBS.