BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Lady Mary will be mired in grief as season four of "Downton Abbey" begins, mourning the loss of her husband, Matthew.
But a string of suitors awaits when she's ready to live again, said Michelle Dockery, who plays Mary in the hit drama that will return to PBS' "Masterpiece" next January.
"She has more than one love interest," Dockery said. "She's kind of slowly throughout the series coming back to real life, and of course it's important for her to eventually move on."
All of those men are, she noted with satisfaction, handsome.
"That was stipulated by you," executive producer Gareth Neame said, dryly.
He and several cast members including Dockery and Laura Carmichael, who plays Mary's sister, Edith, attended a Television Critics Association news conference Tuesday evening to promote the show.
Mary's husband, played by Dan Stevens, was killed in a car crash just after welcoming the couple's newborn son, George, in last season's finale.
The fourth season of "Downton Abbey," which follows the lives of the family and servants living in an English stately house, will include newcomers Paul Giamatti as an American relation and opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa.
The drama series, which started in 1912 and has been moving the calendar forward, is up to the early 1920s and reflects the world's increasing modernity. A fifth season is planned, Neame said, who suggested there could be more to come.
"The show is so popular around the world, it's beloved and it's in fine form," he said. But he said he couldn't envision following the characters as far as World War II.
Earlier, PBS said it is standing firm against airing "Downton Abbey" simultaneously with the drama's U.K. run that begins several months earlier.
Despite the spoilers that leak online from its British run, the period drama has been a ratings hit for public TV, PBS chief executive Paula Kerger told the TV critics' group.
"You kind of don't want to mess with that if it's working so well," Kerger said.
Word-of-mouth from the British airing helps create buzz and promotion in advance of its PBS run, she said.
The show begins its fourth season in Britain this fall, with PBS airing it starting Jan. 5.
Asked about rumors that the next season of "Sherlock" starring Benedict Cumberbatch might air at the same time in the U.S. and Britain, Kerger said the debut date has yet to be set.
The updated exploits of the Sherlock Holmes character has attracted the same "passion and enthusiasm" as "Downton," she said, so PBS is considering its scheduling very carefully.