By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood November 23, 2012 at 3:20PM
Before American audiences have seen even one episode of the much-anticipated "Downton Abbey" Season 3 (finally premiering on PBS on January 6), news comes that the successful show has been renewed for a fourth season on Britain's ITV. Season 3, which recently aired its finale in the UK, averaged a series ratings high there with 9.7 million viewers.
This average includes delayed viewing from the same date of airing (for example: DVR). Season 1 averaged 8.4 million viewers, and Season 2 averaged 9.5 million.
Reportedly the fourth season will be set in the early 1920s, and will return to ITV in fall of 2013. Filming will begin in February.
Season 3 introduces Shirley MacLaine as Lady Cora's tacky American mother who comes to stay with the Crawleys.
"Downton Abbey" has been a good big-screen jumping-off point for romantic leads Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens (Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley, respectively). Dockery boasts a small role in Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" and can also be seen in 2013's "Non-Stop," an airbound thriller starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore.
Stevens stars opposite Dominic Cooper and Emily Browning in the upcoming "Summer in February," a drama set in an Edwardian artists' colony. He's also had Broadway success, starring onstage with Jessica Chastain in "The Heiress." (Check out the Charlie Rose interview on "The Heiress" with Chastain, Stevens and David Strathairn here.)
Meanwhile, Maggie Smith is in the running in a couple of different Oscar categories -- Best Actress for Dustin Hoffman's "Quartet" and Best Supporting Actress for "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." MacLaine could be an outside contender for Richard Linklater's "Bernie."