Julian Fellowes and Downton Abbey. The two are inextricably linked – or so we thought...
You see, the creator of the hit ITV period drama has revealed an unexpected plan of action should his new US show, The Gilded Age, clash with his Downton schedule. "I would not be able to write all of Downton and all of that series at the same time," was his ominous revelation to the New York Times.
Fellowes went on to indicate that if his latest venture – which follows the lives of wealthy New York society in the 19th century – is green-lit for a full series, his writing skills would no longer be at the service of the Crawley household. "If Downton goes on – of course that's not my decision – then it would be with other writers. Perhaps with me supervising, but with other writers."
So does this mean that the future is not only Matthew-free, but also potentially without the celebrated guidance of Fellowes? "I think it would be funny," quipped the show's writer and executive producer, before adding "I know I would not be able to write 11 hours of Downton and 10 hours of The Gilded Age, or whatever it is, side by side."
But as the Downton don rightly points out, in the brutal world of television production, The Gilded Age is far from guaranteed a full series: "There are many hurdles that have to be cleared. You have to write the pilot, they have to decide they're going to make it, they have to decide whether they want to pick it up. So it's a line of ditches that lies between me and the series."
Based on his illustrious track record, though, we reckon studio bosses will be tripping over themselves to sign up Fellowes for another money-spinning period drama. But what does that mean for the future of Downton Abbey without his day-to-day presence?
"My own belief is that these things have a life. And one of the tricks is to recognise when it's time to come to an end. But we haven't made a decision when that will be. Some things go on for 20 years, don't they, but I just don't see Downton being one of them."
Read what Julian Fellowes and Hugh Bonneville had to say to RadioTimes.com at the National Television Awards