‘Downton Abbey’ will end next season

Updated 11:38 AM EDT, Fri March 27, 2015

Story highlights

NEW: Producers are "very interested" in a movie, but there are no plans yet

The show announced the decision Thursday and offered a warm thanks on Twitter

The final season will begin this fall in England, January in the U.S.

(CNN) —  

Get out your lace hankies and prepare to sob quietly.

“Downton Abbey,” the cultural juggernaut that offered the unwashed masses a glimpse into the staid yet dramatic life of early 20th-century English nobility, will end with its sixth season.

The show announced the decision Thursday and offered a warm thanks on Twitter to fans who’ve stuck with it through five seasons of “Upstairs, Downstairs”-style intrigue.

The period drama, which premiered in 2010, follows the trials and tribulations of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants living on the Downton Abbey estate. The show’s first season depicted life in pre-World War I England, while the recently aired fifth season spans the late ‘20s. Written and created by Julian Fellowes, the show gained a foothold internationally, airing on ITV in Britain and PBS stations in America.

Viewers quickly immersed themselves in the issues affecting the wealthy Crawleys, including the death of a daughter, wartime losses and steamy affairs. Meanwhile, members of the servant class dealt with their own struggles around pregnancy, marriage and even crime.

Executive producer Gareth Neame said the show’s creators have known for some time that they would end it at season 6 but wanted to wait to inform the public until season 5 had finished airing.

Now that word is out, he’s “relieved” and looks forward to closing the loop on all the juicy storylines left dangling after season 5.

“The idea of finishing these journeys is really appealing,” Neame said. “It gives you so much great dramatic rocket fuel, and I hope it’ll be the best season yet.”

Could the characters carry in on a “Downton Abbey” movie?

“We would be very interested in that,” Neame told members of the media, adding that a movie is “definitely something we’re contemplating. It would be great fun to do.”

Rumors of the show’s impending end have been swirling since January’s announcement that Fellowes signed a deal to write “The Gilded Age,” a period drama about New York high society for NBC.

Maggie Smith, who portrays acerbic matriarch Lady Violet Crawley, recently predicted in an interview with the Sunday Times that the sixth season would mark the show’s end:

“They say this is the last one, and I can’t see how it could go on,” Smith said.

“I mean, (my character) certainly can’t keep going,” Smith told the Times. “To my knowledge, I must be 110 by now. We’re into the late 1920s.”

The show’s final season will air this fall in England and early next year in the United States.

Neame said he and the cast and crew took great pride in creating a program that so strongly affected television storytelling.

“It has created beautiful characters that are complex and flawed, as we all are in real life, and they’ve been beautifully realized by this amazing cast.”

Fans of the period drama reacted with sadness to the end of a show that brought a sense of refinement and propriety to TV.

“I just think as much as fans around the world have enjoyed watching the show, it’s an incredibly comforting feeling for the cast and crew to bring a great show to everyone when they know their work is appreciated by everyone,” Neame said. “It’s an incredibly warm feeling.”