The British are coming (back)! PBS announces return dates for ‘Sherlock,’ ‘Downton Abbey’

SHARE The British are coming (back)! PBS announces return dates for ‘Sherlock,’ ‘Downton Abbey’

It feels like PBS’ “Sherlock” has been gone forever. At least now the mystery has been solved as to when the iconic sleuth will be back: PBS announced Wednesday that season three of Masterpiece’s “Sherlock” will surface at 9 p.m. (Central) Jan. 19.

Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Fifth Estate,” “Star Trek Into Darkness”) and Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit,” “The Office UK”) play Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in three new 90-minute episodes: “The Empty Hearse” (Jan. 19), “The Sign of Three” (Jan. 26) and “His Last Vow” (Feb. 2) in this contemporary reinvention of the Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic, written and created by Steven Moffat (“Doctor Who”) and Mark Gatiss (“Game of Thrones”).

Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Martin Freeman (Watson) will be back for season 3 of “Sherlock” Jan. 19 on PBS.

Another beloved British favorite is headed back to Sunday nights this January. Season four of “Downton Abbey” returns — with a Chicago influence — at 8 p.m. Jan. 5 with eight new episodes. The Crawley clan finds itself having to cope with last season’s shocking finale (damn you, Branson, why didn’t you just stay a chauffeur!) while the family’s three generations have conflicting interests in the estate. Paul Giamatti joins the cast along with Gary Carr, who plays jazz singer Jack Ross from Chicago. They join the returning ensemble that includes Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Joanne Froggatt and guest star Shirley MacLaine, among others.

Gary Carr joins the cast of “Downton Abbey” as Jack Ross, a jazz singer from Chicago.

The two shows bolster Sunday as a big night for British drama on PBS, whose ratings have been on the rise.According to PBS, the public television network now ranks eighth among all broadcast and cable networks in overall general audience content, surpassed only by the four major broadcast networks as well as USA, Univision and Disney, and overtaking cable’s ESPN, History and TNT in the rankings. Previously, PBS ranked 11th.

“It’s clear that our 2012-2013 season was a real turning point for PBS, with ‘Downton Abbey’ on Masterpiece growing in popularity and a rise in overall general viewership ranking PBS among the top 10 U.S. networks,” Beth Hoppe, PBS’ chief programming executive and general manager for general audience programming said in a statement.

The pairing of British hits “Downton Abbey” and “Sherlock” on Masterpiece Sunday nights sets the stage for the March 30 return of “Call the Midwife” and “Mr. Selfridge,” starring Evanston native Jeremy Piven as the flamboyant American entrepreneur who founded London’s famous Selfridge’s department store.

PBS also announced a number of new programs, including the real-life adventure series “Chasing Shackleton,” the broadcast premieres of biopics “Salinger” (Jan. 21) on American Masters (about the reclusive “Catcher in the Rye” author) and “Hawking” (Jan. 29), a portrait of physicist Stephen Hawking’s life and career.

Wednesday’s nature and science line-up has the Jan. 8 debut of the three-part “Chasing Shackleton,” where five adventurers retrace the death-defying 1914 Antarctic sea-and-land journey by a shipwrecked crew led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Soon after is the four-part “Super Skyscrapers” (Feb. 5) detailing the dizzying heights of modern buildings, and the April 9 premieres of the three-part miniseries “Inside Animal Minds” and “Your Inner Fish,” based on paleontologist Neil Shubin’s best-seller that traces the human body’s development over millions of years.

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