'Downton Abbey': Where does network PBS go from here?

The hit TV show 'Downton' will air its final episode on March 6. The program has been the flagship TV show for network PBS. 

Nick Briggs/PBS/Carnival Film & Television for Masterpiece/AP
'Downton Abbey' stars Jim Carter (l.) and Phyllis Logan (r.).

“Downton Abbey” is close to closing its doors. 

The British historical drama, which airs on PBS in the United State, aired its second-to-last episode on Feb. 22. The series finale of the show centering on the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants will air on March 6. 

(Spoilers for the Feb. 22 episode follow…) 

The newest episode included sisterly rivalry, as eldest sister Mary (Michelle Dockery) told her sister Edith (Laura Carmichael)’s fiancé that Edith’s ward was in fact her daughter. Edith’s fiancé breaks off their engagement and Mary, who earlier rebuffed her love interest, Henry (Matthew Goode), decided to marry Henry.

The end of “Downton” in March will mean that PBS’s highest-rated program will be going off the air. 

The huge popularity of the show has meant a big boost in both ratings and cultural power for the network. 

“’Downton’ in September [2011] not only won four Emmys… but also brought the pubcaster a burst of critical recognition during a time in Washington when government funding of public broadcasting was suddenly in peril,” Deadline staff wrote. “One could even go so far as to say that ‘Downton Abbey’ helped to save PBS, though [PBS's "Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca] Eaton wouldn’t go quite that far this afternoon.”

Can PBS find another hit? 

Another big hit the network currently has is the British TV show “Sherlock,” which has also become quite popular. But unlike “Downton,” a new season of which debuted on PBS every January, the seasons of “Sherlock” are more difficult to predict. A holiday special aired this past January, but there was a gap of almost two years in between. In addition, “Sherlock” seasons run for only three episodes. 

As for future hits, the Civil War drama “Mercy Street,” which debuted this past January, had promising ratings for its series premiere. 

“The network can breathe a sigh of relief that its drama slate seems secure with the Civil War-set series,” Variety TV executive editor Debra Birnbaum wrote of the ratings for "Mercy."

In addition, the network is set to air a program titled “Hamilton’s America” that will detail the making of the smash hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” While that program will presumably be a one-time occasion (though it is part of PBS’s “Great Performances” series), the documentary will no doubt draw a large amount of viewers, as tickets for "Hamilton" are difficult to get.

And with “Downton,” PBS’s social media strategy was cited as one of the reasons “Downton” became a success.

“Social media is a constantly morphing environment, and we’ll always be looking for new venues that will both maintain and grow our social media community moving forward,” Olivia Wong, the senior account executive of national marketing at WGBH Educational Foundation, told Adweek during “Downton”’s run. 

Presumably the network has learned social media engagement plans that could be used for other shows as well.

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