The original cast of PBS' hit series 'Downton Abbey.'

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"Downton Abbey" will return in January 2014

The new season will run for eight weeks

There will be several new characters  — 

Downton Abbey has an official return date: Season 4 of the period drama will premiere on Jan. 5, 2014. The series will then run for eight straight weeks, until Feb. 23.

Season 3 broke ratings records for PBS, becoming its highest-rated drama in history. Next season will air in Britain in the fall before coming to America, and will include the return of Shirley MacLaine as the moneyed and less-mannered Martha Levinson, as well as several new faces such as Tom Cullen, Joanna David, and Gary Carr (playing the show’s first black character), among others.

When EW talked to Abbey exec-producer Julian Fellowes earlier this year, he said that season 4′s “spine” will be (no spoilers), “How Mary rebuilds her life.”

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