The sixth season of Downton Abbey will be its last. The forthcoming end of the U.K. drama was announced Thursday by producer Carnival Films and Masterpiece on PBS.
News of Downton’s demise had been anticipated since January, when NBC — a corporate sibling of Carnival — announced that it would move ahead with long-simmering plans for a new American series, The Gilded Age, from Downton creator and executive producer Julian Fellowes.
Executive producer Gareth Neame was asked during a conference call Thursday whether Fellowes’ decision to begin work on Gilded Age was driving Downton’s end.
“No it really isn’t,” Naeme said. “I would say that if Julian wanted out of the show, I would not be inclined to keep the show alive without Julian,” he added, addressing speculation that PBS and U.K broadcaster ITV would pressure producers to keep the series going without Fellowes.
“There hasn’t been pressure,” Naeme said. “I think it would be wrong of me to say that ITV wouldn’t like the show to continue. PBS would like the show to continue. Why would they not? This has been a tremendously important show for both broadcasters. But there’s never been any heavy pressure on us to act in a certain way.”
For PBS, Downton is the most-watched drama in the public broadcaster’s history. Season five, which ended its PBS run in March, averaged 12.9 million viewers in Nielsen live-plus-seven day ratings.
Traditionally, new seasons of the show air on the U.K. on ITV before premiering in the U.S., with ITV broadcasting the season finale in Britain on Christmas. Naeme said that model will continue to hold for the sixth season.
Noting that producers “don’t have any firm plans” for a spin-off, Naeme did confirm that a Downton feature film remains a possibility — though none of the show’s actors are under contract to appear in one.
“Our position on that is that we would be very interested in that,” Naeme said. “It is definitely something that we’re contemplating.”
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