"Downton Abbey" isn't ending just yet, but producers have a vision of when the finale will be.
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, producer Gareth Neame said he doesn't see the show lasting for 10 years.
"We have to balance between continuing to make it for audiences around the world that adore it and making sure that we don't take it too far … which is not now and not next year, but likely five years or six years, not 10 years," Neame said when asked about how long the series can continue.
After the success of "Downton Abbey" Season 2 in the US and production on Season 3 was well under way, news broke that much of the cast was signed for Seasons 4 and 5 of the cross-over hit series. One name was left off the list: Maggie Smith. After much speculation, Masterpiece downplayed the reports of her departure, but "Downton" creator Julian Fellowes told TVLine Smith isn't contracted for Season 4.
“I can’t tell you, ‘Oh, yes, she’s definitely contracted [for Season 4] -- because she isn't,” Fellowes said. “It’s entirely up to her when she stays and when she goes ... But as far as I’m concerned, I hope she stays with the show until Downton falls down.”
When "Downton Abbey" Season 3 kicks off, look for Smith's Dowager Countess to spar with Martha, played by Shirley MacLaine. MacLaine recently told members of the press she and Smith had met previously. "Well, we were lovers in another life," she said during a Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour panel.
Neame told THR that MacLaine was on a short-list to play Martha, Lady Cora's mother.
"We had approached her, and she had already seen the show and loved it," he said. "Having Maggie Smith in that part, you had to have an American actress of similar weight. And actually, there isn't a huge list. We spoke to her publicist, and her publicist said, 'If she doesn't agree to do this, then I quit.'"
For more on "Downton Abbey," including which famous film actress has approached producers about appearing on the series, click over to THR. "Downton Abbey" recently scored numerous Emmy nominations. See what the stars had to see about their honors by clicking through the slideshow below.
Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock" - Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
"As the show enters its last season, I'm gratified to be nominated again by the Academy."
Don Cheadle, "House of Lies" - Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
"Wow. My agent was right when he said, 'You don't have to bribe all the people to get nominated, Don. Just the right people.' This is the best $246,000.00 I've ever spent. Thanks, Emmy."
Michelle Dockery, "Downton Abbey" - Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
"This is an incredible feeling, it is wonderful! To be nominated in this category and be in the company of these amazing women is a real honour and I am truly grateful to the Emmy voters for putting me in there!"
Hugh Bonneville, "Downton Abbey" - Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
"To be part of a show like 'Downton Abbey' is thrilling enough, that it has been embraced by American audiences to the extent it has and for the show to have received 16 nominations from the Emmy voters this year is astonishing. I can hardly believe that I've been nominated alongside five legends of contemporary television drama - Steve, Bryan, Michael, Damian and Jon. I'm truly honoured."
Terence Winter, "Boardwalk Empire" - Outstanding Drama Series & More
"I'm enormously pleased and proud of our nominations, especially this year. Perhaps at no other time in television history has the competition in the drama category been so fierce. The fact that we've been recognized is a testament to the talent of our incredible cast and crew." (Steve Buscemi pictured)
Jay Roach, "Game Change" - Oustanding Miniseries/Movie & More
"It's all about this phenomenal cast and Danny's excellent script -- he got it right. And HBO, the best and bravest studio in Hollywood, all these years."
Edie Falco, "Nurse Jackie" - Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
"I love 'Nurse Jackie' and I'm very honored to be recognized by my peers. This year is particularly exciting with several of my castmates also being nominated. It is great year for 'Nurse Jackie'!"
Margaret Cho, "30 Rock" - Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series
"I'm so excited to have been nominated for an Emmy, especially for '30 Rock,' which is an incredible show and also for playing a deranged and deceased world dictator who has divided the small country of my origin in two. That's the best part. I think that's what I'd call iron curtain irony."
Jim Carter, "Downton Abbey" - Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
"I'd just like to say I'm delighted for Julian and everyone connected with the show. It's brilliant that 'Downton Abbey' has been nominated in so many categories as it is a real team effort and the nominations reflect that."
Joanne Froggatt, "Downton Abbey" - Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
"This is the biggest and best shock of my life, I honestly didn't expect it and I'm overwhelmed. Amazing!"
Bill Hader, "30 Rock" - Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
"It's a great honor, though there should be parentheses next to my name with all of the 'SNL' writers. And now I have to kiss up to the cast members of 'Modern Family' in hopes that they pull a Ving Rhames and give me their award when they win."
Nicole Kidman, "Hemingway & Gellhorn" - Oustanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries/Movie
"Thank you Academy. I am so happy to share this nomination with Clive. It is a true acknowledgment of Martha Gelhorn's life and amazing work. Discovering and playing her, under the guidance and passion of the great Phil Kaufman, was a joy and a privilege."
Brendan Coyle, "Downton Abbey" - Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
"I'm overwhelmed, it is a real privilege to be in this ensemble and I genuinely did not expect this. But I'm very honoured."
Jimmy Fallon, "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" - Outstanding Variety Series
"So happy to get nominated! Can't wait to get back to the 'Late Night' office and celebrate! But first I gotta leave this theatre and change out of this Batman costume."
Judd Apatow, "Girls," Outstanding Comedy Series
"I am thrilled for Lena, Jenni and our team. I am so lucky to get to work with these incredible women."
Clive Owen, "Hemingway & Gellhorn" - Oustanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries/Movie
"I am really thrilled to be nominated for 'Hemingway and Gellhorn.' I had such a great time working with the brilliant Phil Kaufman and the wonderful Nicole Kidman."
Steven Moffat, executive producer of "Sherlock"
"13 just got lucky. That's an amazing number of nominations for Sherlock and we are beyond thrilled. This has been a passion project for everyone involved and it's success has overwhelmed all of us. I think we're even more overwhelmed this morning."
Rebecca Eaton, PBS "Masterpiece" Executive Producer
"37 Emmy nominations is historic for MASTERPIECE and rewards the hard work of hundreds of people. Congratulations to all our gifted colleagues. We're honored to have presented quality work like theirs for over 40 years on PBS. In particular, for 'Downton Abbey' to be included in the fast-track race of Best Drama Series and to receive 16 nominations in total is beyond wonderful. Hooray to Julian Fellows, Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle and Jim Carter. And 'Sherlock' (shown) rocks with 13 nominations. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are television geniuses and it's gratifying that the Academy has recognized that."
Zooey Deschanel, "New Girl" - Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
"I wanted to be an actress since I was 2-years-old. It's always been my dream and ambition. This is the kind of moment you dream about. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I could have this incredible honor and recognition. It's just so exciting." [<a href="http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/07/19/emmy-awards-new-girl-zooey-deschanel/" target="_hplink">EW</a>]
Connie Britton, "American Horror Story" - Oustanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries/Movie
"'American Horror Story' was a really unique and special show, I felt so fortunate to be able to do it and to have this be the dividend from that is just really extraordinary." [<a href="http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/emmys-2012-american-horror-story-connie-britton-351755" target="_hplink">THR</a>]
Max Greenfield, "New Girl" - Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep" - Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
"I'm so happy! Especially for the show getting a nomination too. I must admit though, I was dead asleep when they were announced. I don't wake up for these things; I feel like that jinxes it. Today I'm going to celebrate by getting my teeth cleaned. Oh yes, I'm splurging!" [<a href="http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/emmy-nominees-reactions-steve-buscemi-bryan-cranston-351756" target="_hplink">THR</a>]
Steve Buscemi, "Boardwalk Empire," Oustanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
"There are so many amazing performances this year by actors I really admire that it means a lot to me to being included among them." [<a href="http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/07/19/emmy-nominations-alec-baldwin-jimmy-fallon/" target="_hplink">EW</a>]
Ryan Murphy, "American Horror Story" - Oustanding Miniseries/Movie
"In most cases, anything that that remotely has to do with horror or the horror genre doesn't usually get a lot of [Emmy] love for whatever reason. So that was a huge hurdle [we had to overcome]. I was pretty sure Jessica [Lange] would get nominated, and obviously the special effects, but other than that I had no clue; I was very surprised." [<a href="http://tvline.com/2012/07/19/american-horror-story-emmy-2012/" target="_hplink">TVLine</a>]
Betty White, "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" - Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Reality-Competition Program
"I'm blown out of my mind and I'm thrilled beyond words."
Mayim Bialik, "The Big Bang Theory" - Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
"I don't even know that I was that conscious of the Emmys even when I was on TV as a young person, it wasn't as big of a publicized deal as it is now -- but I never ever pictured myself up there ... We're going to Legoland with the kids, and my best friend said she would buy me two vegan cupcakes today." [<a href="http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/emmys-2012-big-bang-theory-jim-parsons-mayim-bialik-351771" target="_hplink">THR</a>]
Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory" - Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
"I have an extra special performance of 'Harvey' today which will find me happier than normal." [<a href="http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/emmys-2012-big-bang-theory-jim-parsons-mayim-bialik-351771" target="_hplink">THR</a>]
Kevin Costner, "Hatfields & McCoys," Oustanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries/Movie
"Filming the 'Hatfields & McCoys' was one of the most fulfilling and inspiring projects that I've had the opportunity to work on, and it was truly gratifying that audiences tuned in to see our interpretation of this classic American story. To be recognized for our work by the members of Television Academy this morning is the cherry on top. I share this nomination with everyone who contributed to this project from the producers, cast and crew to the great team at History, who really stepped up to support the creative vision of the filmmakers."
Bill Paxton, "Hatfields & McCoys," Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries/Movie
"I'm shocked and humbled by this Emmy nomination and excited for Kevin, Mare and Tom and all the Emmy nominations 'Hatfields & McCoys' has received. I should have grown the beard a long time ago."
Mare Winningham, "Hatfields & McCoys," Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries/Movie
"Some projects just have a special magic, a chemistry of actors, of producers, of director and location. History's 'Hatfields & McCoys' was one of those filming experiences. I didn't want to let go of it when it ended, and now I get to keep smiling in celebration with everyone involved."
Jared Harris, "Mad Men" - Outstanding Supporting Actor In Drama Series
"I couldn't have been more honored and even a bit overwhelmed when I heard the news. Every role on 'Mad Men' is written with great detail and weight and Lane Pryce was no exception. I loved my time on the show-- this is such an incredible way to walk away. Thanks to the incomparable Mr. Weiner and to my cast mates -- Jon, John, Lizzie, Christina, Vinnie, Embeth, and everyone else -- I can only be as good as those who I work opposite, and you are the best. To everyone at AMC, Lionsgate, the writers, and crew - my sincerest thank you, I had a blast."
Archie Panjabi, "The Good Wife" - Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
"To receive that nomination, I am ecstatic for them for recognizing my work on what I consider to be a very very special production so I am very grateful." [<a href="http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/emmys-2012-the-good-wife-archie-panjabi-kalinda-351852?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter" target="_hplink">THR</a>]
Glenn Close, "Damages" - Oustanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
"I am thrilled to be recognized by the Academy and to share this category with such exciting and accomplished actresses. 'Damages' has been the ride of a lifetime and I am honored to represent every single one of our extraordinary team. I would not be here without them, especially, KZK, our brilliant writers and my exquisite co-star, Rose Byrne. And I thank our wonderfully loyal and engaged audience who have never wavered in their love and support of our show."
Claire Danes, "Homeland" - Oustanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
"I am honored to be recognized by the Academy among such a talented group of women. I am thrilled that Damian, 'Homeland,' our amazing writers and director and so many others got nominated. It is a great day to be on set where we can all celebrate together."
Merritt Wever, "Nurse Jackie" - Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
"I am extremely surprised by the news and so grateful that people have enjoyed this season. I am very lucky to be a part of this show."
Julianna Margulies, "The Good Wife" - Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
"I am so honored to be nominated for 'The Good Wife.' The Academy has been very supportive of me over the years and my appreciation is boundless."
Mark Margolis, "Breaking Bad" - Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series
"I am totally surprised and flattered. Just being nominated is an honor and enough for me. Whether I win or not is beside the point. The last award I ever got was a Boy Scout badge in 1952. I think I still have it."
Maya Rudolph, "Saturday Night Live" - Oustanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series
"I had so much fun hosting -- it was like coming home. Getting to go back and play with your friends ... there's nothing better. Hosting 'SNL' was my childhood dream, while other kids were playing princess I was doing impressions of Roseanne Roseannadanna. This is an amazing honor and one I share with Lorne, and all the incredible cast and writers of 'SNL.'"