Downton Abbey: ITV confirms third series

ITV has confirmed there will be a third series of its popular period drama Downton Abbey.

Filming for a new series of the Julian Fellowes drama, set in 1920 and 1921, will begin in the new year, and be broadcast from September 2012.

Fellowes said: "I am extremely grateful to ITV for this. I have grown very fond of my Downton family and I certainly do not want to say goodbye to them quite yet."

The final episode of the second series, set just after the end of the first world war and starring Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, airs this Sunday on ITV1. The third series will cover a period of 18 months in the lives of the Crawley family between 1920 and 1921.

The second series of Downton Abbey has managed to pull in about 9 million viewers on Sunday evenings, about a third of the audience in that time slot, despite some criticism that it did not live up to the critically acclaimed first series. The average audience so far for the second series rises to 11.5 million when consolidated viewing, including seven-day catch-up on devices such as Sky+, is taken into account.

ITV1's hit drama, which is made by NBC Universal's UK production subsidiary Carnival Films, batted away competition from US shows in September to win four awards at the Emmys. Downton Abbey won awards for best mini-series, best direction, best writing and best supporting actress for Maggie Smith.

Laura Mackie, ITV's director of drama commissioning, said: "We're absolutely delighted to be bringing Downton Abbey back for a third series, as we follow the inhabitants of Downton as they move into the roaring 20s.

"It's rare to find a drama that the audience connects with so strongly and we're extremely proud to have commissioned a series that has become such a phenomenon."