Downton Abbey; watch 10 minutes of episode 1

The countdown to season three has begun on the Downtown Abbey website. Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as Cora's mother and the battle of the matriarchs will commence.

Downton Abbey concluded its season three run in Great Britain and an average of 12 million fans watched each and every episode.

That fact alone makes it difficult to avoid spoilers on the show's Facebook page and in Internet postings. Wouldn't it be great if the next season is aired in the U.S. closer to the timing of the British television debut?

PBS finally gets its crack at airing the popular drama when Downton Abbey returns on Sunday January 6, 2013. Links to the full season schedule and the show's Twitter page are posted below.

Season three of Downton consists of seven episodes and for fans of the Emmy Award-winning drama, it isn't enough.

There are so many delightful and intriguing plot lines to explore, particularly the engagement of Lady Mary and cousin Matthew Crawley after two long seasons of bad timing.

Then there is the battle of the dowagers, as Lady Violet Grantham, played to perfection by Maggie Smith gets one more rival-annoyance to deal with.

After finally coming to terms with Isobel Crawley, Matthew's mother, the challenge of an American of means arriving at Downton is served up almost immediately.

Shirley MacLaine enters the fray as Cora's mother Martha Levinson. It was her money that Cora, the Countess of Grantham brought with her as a dowry that saved Downton Abbey.

The show was nominated for three 2013 Golden Globe Awards one of which is in the best television drama category. Two of its actresses, Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery who plays Lady Mary are nominated in different acting categories

Part of the story this season will be Robert, the Earl of Grantham's attempts to keep the estate in good order and financially healthy.

It isn't an easy chore after the end of World War I and the societal changes engulfing British society. As the Earl said:

"We've dreamed a dream, my dear, but now it is over. The world was in a dream before the war but now it's woken up and said goodbye to it. And so must we."

Want a refresher course on the stories from season two? Many local PBS channels are airing replays of the episodes. Check local listings for details and times in your area.

Link to Downton Abbey season three schedule.

Link to the characters' Twitter page, here.

Link to episode one-season three video, here. Image: Downton Abbey DVD jewel case