"Downton Abbey" officially renewed for fifth season

The cast of season 4 of "Downton Abbey."
Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE

Fans of "Downton Abbey" have double the reason to be excited: Not only does the Masterpiece hit return for its fourth season this January, but now PBS has announced that it will also be back for a fifth season.

"Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton says "Downton" fans can "rest easy knowing that a fifth season is on the way."

For followers of the elite Crawley crew and their breathtaking costumes, this renewal should not come as a shock. The fourth season, which just finished its run in the U.K., averaged 11.8 million viewers, making it the top-rated drama there, and the series has made history here, as it is the most-watched drama in PBS history, with more than 24 million viewers tuning in to season 3.

"Audiences have enjoyed their regular Sunday evening visits back to Downton once again this autumn and we are thrilled to produce a new series of the show next year," said executive producer Gareth Neame, in a statement referring to its U.K. airing. "We promise all the usual highs and lows, romance, drama and comedy played out by some of the most iconic characters on television. All the actors and makers of the show continue to be humbled by the extraordinary audience response and want to take the show from strength to strength next year."

Season four, starring Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern and Jim Carter among others, will air on PBS Jan. 5-Feb. 23, following a preview special, "Return to Downton Abbey," scheduled for Dec. 1. And if the show follows its traditional format, season 5 should air on British television next fall and in the USA in early 2015.