PBS has announced that Season 4 of British period drama "Downton Abbey" will premiere on Jan. 5, 2014. The season will run for eight weeks, ending on Feb. 23.
Like the seasons before it, the fourth season will again lag the U.K.'s broadcast, which will run in the autumn of 2013 on ITV. Last season, this caused some controversy among fans, as spoilers and leaked videos hit the Internet before the U.S. broadcast -- the biggest upset being the death of Matthew Crawley in the season finale.
In February, PBS president Paula Kerger told Salon that despite the possibility of spoilers, a several-month lag in broadcasting still makes sense for the scrappy network:
“It’s complicated for a lot of reasons. If you ran it at same time as [it runs in the U.K.], you’re running it at the same time as premieres,” said Kerger. “Why put your best stuff against everybody else? We’re showcasing it in as strong a position as we can. We don’t have a huge ad budget. When people write about us, it helps us tremendously, we rely very heavily on earned media and the kindness of strangers.” To hold the show until it can air in the doldrums of midwinter — as it has the past two years, and likely will for the already-greenlighted Season 4, is to ensure that it doesn’t have to cede the spotlight quite as much.
At the very least, PBS doesn’t believe spoilers hurt the show. “I know there is a perception that the spoilers are floating around, but it doesn’t seem to affect the numbers,” said Kerger.
"Downton Abbey's" Season 3 premiere drew in 7.9 million viewers, a 96 percent increase from the average rating of the second season premiere.