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Life goes on with a new season of ‘Downton Abbey’

Television » British hit is moving on — and so must the fans of this high-class soap opera.

By Scott D. Pierce

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jan 02 2014 08:41 am • Last Updated Jan 06 2014 08:47 am

Matthew Crawley is dead. It’s time to start getting over it, "Downton Abbey" fans. Although, clearly, some of you are having difficulty with that.

"There’s Matthew denial," PBS president Paula Kerger told The Salt Lake Tribune. "There are people who think that he’s really not gone. There was hope that it was sort of a ‘Dallas’ thing — it really was all a dream."

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Back to ‘Downton Abbey’

The fourth season begins Sunday, Jan. 5, at 8 p.m. on PBS/Channel 7.

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It wasn’t. Matthew is dead. Dan Stevens, who played him, has left the show. For good.

"I am telling people to call [creator/writer/producer] Julian Fellowes if they have issues," Kerger said with a laugh.

Matthew’s death at the end of Season 3 came as a shock to viewers and the other actors on the show. Particularly Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, Matthew’s wife — now widow.

"My first reaction was ‘Oh, crap. What is going to happen?’ " Dockery said. "Because I thought — where can the story go now? We’ve spent all this time having this on-and-off, will-they-won’t-they relationship, and then suddenly it was coming to an end."

Season 4 begins several months after the end of Season 3. It’s 1922, the world continues to change and the Crawley family, along with the staff at Downton Abbey, is still dealing with the loss.

The show continues without missing a beat. The characters are having a harder time of it. After all, Matthew was the second Crawey to die in Season 3. Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) died of complications from childbirth three episodes earlier.

To a lot of fans, that was as big a blow as Matthew’s passing.

"I was heartbroken, because Sybil was the character I kind of most identified with," Kerger said.

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She wasn’t alone. PBS board chairman Geoffrey Sands "came to our board meeting the day after the Sybil episode aired and he said, ‘I got a call from my wife, and our daughter was sobbing at school because of Sybil.’ "

Before anyone gets upset with Fellowes, take note: Both actors wanted to leave the show.

"If actors don’t want to come back and they’re really definitive about that, you can make that happen," Kerger said.

Death is part of life at Downton Abbey. And life goes on.

"I think that, as much as it was sad to see Dan go, the same as it was to see Jessica go, it opens up opportunity for Julian to write a new chapter and something quite different," Dockery said.

There were fans who vowed they’d never watch the show again after Matthew’s death. And … nobody believes them.

"Of course they’ll come back," Kerger said. "They didn’t stop watching when Sybil died."

"Downton Abbey" is a pop-culture phenomenon, the highest-rated drama in PBS history. It averaged 11.5 million viewers for Season 3; 12.3 million for the season finale.

Those numbers would have made it a success on any network, not just public TV. More Americans watched "Downton Abbey" than watched hit shows like "Grey’s Anatomy," "The Good Wife," "How I Met Your Mother," "Revenge," "Scandal," "Glee" and dozens more.

And you can bet those millions will be back to see Mary start to recover from her loss. Don’t be surprised when she finds a new love interest.

"She actually has more than one love interest," Dockery said. "And, yeah, she’s kind of slowly, throughout the series, coming back to real life."

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