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BREAKING NEWS: DOWNTON ABBEY Spokesman Confirms Dan Stevens Departure

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Deadline reports that DOWNTON ABBEY star Dan Stevens will not be returning for the fourth season of the popular British drama series. According to the report, a spokesman for the show confirmed that the actor will not be on the set when the series begins filming its fourth season this winter. Stevens, who portrays Matthew Crawley on the show, is currently starring opposite Jessica Chastain in Broadway's 'The Heiress.' He will next be seen on the big screen in the upcoming indie 'Summer in February.'

While the third season of the period drama concluded on UK's ITV last November, the network aired a special Christmas episode last night which explains the departure of Steven's character. PBS will begin broadcasting season three of the series in the U.S. on January 6.

The widely-acclaimed drama was officially renewed for a fourth season last month by ITV. According to the British broadcaster, the fourth season will consist of eight episodes and an extended Christmas special, set to begin airing in the Fall of 2013 in the UK. The third season has just recently wrapped up. "Viewers can look forward to more drama, comedy, love, hatred, jealousy, rivalry, ambition, despair and romance," executive producer Gareth Neame said in a statement.

Written and created by Julian Fellowes, the series won an impressive six Primetime Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe in its first season. Recent honors for Season 2 include multi-category nominations from the Critics' Choice Awards and from the Television Critics Association.

The cast also includes Hugh Bonneville, Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Penelope Wilton, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle and a host of others, joined by Shirley MacLaine (Oscar for Best Actress, Terms of Endearment), who plays Martha Levinson, the very American mother of Cora, Countess of Grantham (McGovern).

Photo courtesy of ITV

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