"Downton Abbey" has been renewed for a fourth season, British broadcaster ITV announced Friday. Though the show has yet to premiere its third season in the US (it bows on PBS on January 6, 2013), it just concluded its run in the UK with its highest-rated season to date, averaging over 12 million viewers for the Season 3 finale.

The fourth season will begin filming eight episodes, plus another Christmas special, in February 2013 for a fall premiere in the UK. Though PBS has yet to issue a statement on its plans for the fourth season, the show is expected to continue at the network.

According to Gareth Neame, executive producer of the series, “viewers can look forward to more drama, comedy, love, hatred, jealousy, rivalry, ambition, despair and romance" in the fourth season.

Laura Mackie, Director of Drama at ITV, said: “We’re thrilled to welcome back a drama series that has become a much anticipated part of all our lives every autumn and achieved success around the globe. Creator, writer and executive producer Julian Fellowes and the production team, led by Gareth and the producer Liz Trubridge, never rest on their laurels and have exciting plans for the fourth series.”

Neame also praised “genius” showrunner Julian Fellowes, who writes all the episodes. “Not only is he a superb craftsman, he also has an extraordinary work ethic. It is a mammoth undertaking to write all those episodes,” he said in the statement. “The main credit for the success of 'Downton' is by far and away down to Julian. I’ve not had the fortune to work with anyone else who combines so many talents.”

Before Season 4 premieres, UK viewers can still look forward to the show's Christmas special, which "sees Lord and Lady Grantham and family heading for a summer break in The Highlands of Scotland, leaving most of their servants back at home," according to ITV. The special will air as part of Season 3 on PBS in the US.

“We're always very pleased with the audience reaction to the series," said Mackie. "From the very first series Julian created an ensemble of memorable characters. Of course there are some you may like more than others but they’re all incredibly well drawn. He knows them all so well and is able to quickly integrate new characters into the drama so you feel as if they have always been there. That’s a real gift."

She continued, "Julian, Gareth and the production team manage to keep the absolute essence of what people liked in the first place and yet they almost treat every series as though it’s a new drama. So each series feels fresh and yet it always delivers those things you love. As we move through the different eras there’s always more to enjoy.”

"Downton Abbey" Season 3 premieres Sun., Jan. 6 on PBS. You can also watch "Downton Abbey Revisited," featuring a recap of Season 2 and preview of Season 3, on Sun., Nov. 25 at 8 p.m. ET on PBS.

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    Downton's new footman Alfred Nugent

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