Downton Abbey

Courtesy of ©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE

The Olympics? They couldn't stop the Dowager Countess-loving viewers. Downton Abbey's season four finale—the Christmas special that aired in the U.K. on Christmas Day 2013—scored 8.5 million viewers on PBS in the U.S. on Sunday, Feb. 23 at 9 p.m.

The episode was up against the Olympics closing ceremony on NBC and AMC's The Walking Dead. The closing ceremony had 15.3 million viewers and a 3.3 rating among the coveted 18-49. Meanwhile, The Walking Dead brought in 13.1 million viewers, 8.4 of them were in the 18-49 demo.

"Our Downton audience has stayed true to the end, watching the fourth season in record numbers," Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, said in a statement. "We are grateful to Carnival Films and MASTERPIECE for another must-see year of dramatic twists and turns—and are eagerly awaiting season five."

Season five likely kicks off on ITV in the U.K. in the fall of 2014 with a winter 2015 start date in the U.S. In addition to the returning players from season four, the cast will welcome Richard E. Grant as Simon Bricker, a guest of the Granthams, Anna Chancellor as Lady Anstruther and Rade Sherbedgia as a Russian refugee.

"We are absolutely thrilled that US audiences have again followed Downton so loyally throughout season four," Downton's executive producer Gareth Neame said in a statement. "The series launched with record ratings and continued to perform incredibly strongly throughout the run, and for a British drama to continue to add millions of viewers is truly wonderful for us all, both behind and in front of the camera."

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Downton even stood its ground against the Super Bowl for the third straight year. The episode airing against the big game had 6.8 million viewers.

"We are so pleased with the passionate support U.S. audiences have shown Downton Abbey throughout this season," Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton said in a statement. "I know that season five will meet the high expectations of the show's millions of loyal fans."

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