This morning, PBS announced their upcoming winter/spring line-up, and it’s good news all around for fans of British period drama. We already knew that Downton Abbey will return on Jan. 6, but now there’s more. The evening of the Downton premiere will also see a special on Highclere Castle, the estate that stands in for the Earl of Grantham’s country seat. And after Downton‘s season ends, the mania for Masterpiece-style drama continues.
“There’s no doubt that, in America, Downton has blazed a trail and we have benefitted from that,” Pippa Harris, executive producer of another successful British period drama, Call the Midwife, tells TIME. PBS will pick up the second season of Call the Midwife, as well as Mr. Selfridge, a new Masterpiece drama, both set to premiere March 31. Call the Midwife drew about 50% above the previous year’s average viewership for PBS during the show’s first season, and Season 2 will have a much shorter lag time for U.S. broadcast versus U.K. air dates.
“It was thrilling to find out that American audiences were responding to the show just as well,” Harris says. She gives credit for the show’s transatlantic appeal to the universality of childbirth and the specificity of a story about hard times. “A lot of the stories are about people taking care of the vulnerable in society; I think that has struck a chord.” The babies on the show—who Harris says are the most challenging production element, especially since there’s no way to really tell when babies who are signed up to appear will be born—are not actors, but rather the new children of women who give birth at hospitals near the set and who think it will be fun to see their babies on screen.
Harris promises fans a deeper look at the lives of the show’s midwives and the history behind their lives in London’s East End in the 1950s, plus the introduction of a new character, a medical orderly named Jane. “She’s a very seemingly meek and mild character but then as you get to know her you start to understand the reasons she’s as reserved and reticent as she is,” Harris says. And yes, frustrated fans will get more off the pre-baby, including some for Jenny: “We’ve been sure to sprinkle some romance through.”
Aside from Masterpiece-style shows, PBS plans a January “American Experience” series about abolitionists, the third season of the miniseries Pioneers of Television, a run of David Attenborough’s best work in honor of the naturalist’s 60th year on television, documentary selections like Girl Model, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and The Central Park Five.