American fans of "Downton Abbey" still haven't had a chance to enjoy season three of Julian Fellowes popular drama series on this side of the Atlantic, but British co-producer ITV and Carnival Films revealed today that season four has been given the go ahead.

Similar to the current season's production schedule, eight new episodes will be shot in the first half of 2013 to air in the autumn in the UK. An annual Christmas-themed episode will also be filmed.  PBS has not commented yet on the announcement from their British partners, but it's expected season 4 will air in the United States in early 2014.  Season 3 premieres stateside on PBS on Jan 8.

In a report from ITV, Carnival Films Gareth Neame noted, "'Downton' has a whole life beyond the episodes themselves. It has leapt out of the television set and become part of both the national and global conversation."

He continued, "It is now part of culture and society and that’s a very different experience for all of us involved in making the show."

While Neame noted that "well loved characters from both above and below the stairs" will return (along with some new faces) it did not specifically indicate whether Dame Maggie Smith will come back for the show's fourth season. The Oscar-winning 77-year-old icon has been cagey when discussing committing to further seasons of "Downton."