British television channel ITV has confirmed that hit drama "Downton Abbey" will return for a fourth season.

Filming of eight new episodes for the award-winning period series will begin in southern England's Highclere Castle and London's Ealing Studios early next year.

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ITV said last week that, as before, the opening and closing episodes will be feature-length, and that the series will continue the story of the Crawley family and its servants in the 1920s.

The channel said that an extended special episode for next Christmas is also planned.

"Downton Abbey" has won fans worldwide, and an average of 11.9 million viewers in Britain watched its third season, which will premiere in the United States on PBS on Jan. 6

-- AP