By LYNN ELBER
LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Sherlock” starring Benedict Cumberbatch will return to public TV in January, keeping company on Sunday nights with the “Downton Abbey” crowd.
Season three of the modern Sherlock Holmes mystery series will began Jan. 19, PBS said Wednesday. It was previously announced that the fourth season of "Downton" will begin Jan 5.
The scheduling reflects PBS’ new strategy of pairing dramas on Sunday, part of a broader effort to build “flow within a given night in our schedule,” said Beth Hoppe, PBS’ chief programming executive.
Prime-time viewership on Sunday, home to primarily British dramas, grew 26 percent last season with the new approach, Hoppe said, and “Sherlock” and “Downton Abbey” were seen as good partners.
Overall, PBS’ prime-time ratings were up 7 percent last season compared to the year before, Hoppe said.
“Downton Abbey,” the hit drama about the lives and loves of landed gentry and their servants, will be preceded by a Dec. 1 special, “Return to Downton Abbey.” Hosted by Susan Sarandon, it will offer a look at past seasons and a peek at the one ahead.
As in the past, the drama's new season already is in progress on Britain's ITV. PBS has resisted timing the U.S. to the U.K. airings, saying the January debut works better for its schedule - a move that's allowed spoilers to cross the Atlantic.
Watch the Pilot Episode of “Downton Abbey” Below:
But PBS relented with BBC’s “Sherlock,” which is scheduled closer to its yet-to-be announced British airing, Hoppe said.
Other returning U.K. dramas include “Call the Midwife” and “Mr. Selfridge” starring Jeremy Piven, both debuting Sunday, March 30, and “The Bletchley Circle” on April 13.
The busy Benedict Cumberbatch, whose current movies include "The Fifth Estate" and "12 Years a Slave," is part of another PBS program, "Hawking," a Jan. 29 documentary about British physicist Stephen Hawking as told by him. Cumberbatch, who played Hawking in a 2004 TV movie, is a friend of the scientist and appears in the film, Hoppe said.
A lineup of science and nature programming for April includes a three-part special with the working title “Inside Animal Minds,” debuting April 9 on “Nova.”
More midseason programs scheduled to air on public TV stations:
— “Salinger” (Jan. 21), an “American Masters” documentary about the late “The Catcher in the Rye” author J.D. Salinger that includes interviews with his friends and colleagues.
— “Barrymore” (Jan. 31), a “Great Performances” presentation of Christopher Plummer’s stage performance as John Barrymore.
— “The Amish: Shunned” (Feb. 4), an “American Experience” documentary that follows seven former members of the Amish community as they adjust to a new life.
— “Story of the Jews” (March 25), a five-part series with historian and author Simon Schama examining the Jewish experience from ancient times to now.
— “Muscle Shoals” (April 21), an “Independent Lens” look at the fertile musical Alabama breeding ground, with the perspectives from Mick Jagger, Etta James, Clarence Carter and others.
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