PBS' singular hit, “Downton Abbey,” will get a sixth season.

PBS' singular hit, “Downton Abbey,” will get a sixth season. Credit: Carnival Films

Yes Virginia, there will be a sixth season of “Downton Abbey.” Just announced ... dispelling any lingering, gloomy doubts that the fifth, arriving early next year, would be the last.

 Rebecca Eaton, the longtime chief of “Masterpiece Theatre,” couldn't even contain her own excitement in a prepared statement released a bit earlier Thursday: 

“Good news! Just as our audience settles in for the beloved Crawley family drama, we can announce that Season 6 will arrive a year later. How lucky can you get?”

 How lucky can SHE get? “Downton" -- far and away the biggest hit in PBS history (13-plus million viewers) -- has been dogged by the usual question marks that accompany any major hit: Will it continue now that showrunner Julian Fellowes got all that money to develop a new series for NBC — tentatively titled “The Gilded Age" -- and therefore clearly will not have the time for another season of “Downton?”

  In fact, PBS and Eaton pointedly noted that the sixth season, to go into production next year, will in fact be written by Fellowes. This might suggest that NBC's series could be delayed, and maybe even arrive by 2016.

Or it may also suggest that NBC — which has currently found success with shows such as “The Mysteries of Laura,” and which are about as far away from a Julian Fellowes sensibility as the planet earth is from the star Proxima Centauri (4.2 light years away in case you were wondering) -- doesn't have a pressing need for a high-toned series like “The Gilded Age” at the moment. 

It's obviously unclear how this will affect his NBC commitment, but I think we can assume anyway that Sir Julian will be a very busy man over the next few months. Now we can all ruminate about the possibility of a seventh season ...

  The fifth season (already in progress in the U.K.) will arrive here Jan. 4

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