Last week was a big week for goodbyes in the world of entertainment, from Jeremy Clarkson and One Direction's Zayn to Dermot O'Leary's X Factor departure. The biggest and most terrible news of all (as far as this writer is concerned) was that Downton Abbey is set to end after its upcoming sixth season.
There will be no more awkward dinner parties, whispered exchanges in the servants' hall or quick-tongued quips from the Dowager Countess. Just how will we face the working week without our Abbey-shaped fix on a Sunday?
"There are no definite plans to make a spinoff," exec producer Gareth Neame has teased. "But again, I wouldn’t rule it out."
That's all the encouragement we need... Here are six spin-off shows with the potential to keep the spirit of Downton Abbey alive long after the final credits roll next Christmas.
Broadcasters, please form an orderly queue...
Downton Abbey: The Next Generation or Downton Revisited
Downton's ageless characters have long been a source of contention, with even Maggie Smith recently claiming that Violet Crawley "must be 110 by now." Reluctantly, we can see why the current story might need to end, but the key to Downton's eternal life? Well, that lies with its younger generation: George, Sybbie and Marigold. Three Crawley cousins who, if you fast-forward to 1939 to find Britain on the cusp of the Second World War, would be ripe and ready for their own spin off.
George – heir to Robert's title and the Crawley estate and fortune – would be about to come of age, while Sybbie would be 19 and Marigold 16. Between the Abbey and the Crawleys' London residence, there could be conscription, rationing, evacuees and the Blitz to contend with, not forgetting flings with handsome American pilots, moral and political turmoil and victory rolls. It makes so much sense, I can't believe this isn't already in production.
After seasons of upset, distress and time spent behind bars (accused of murders that they definitely didn’t commit) Anna and Bates deserve some true happiness. They need to get away from Downton, find a place of their own and start a business, a modest hotel, for instance. Should the occasional guest disappear, well that’s just bad luck. And if Bates decides to turn over the earth in his vegetable plot during a full moon, that’s his own affair and really just a sensible way to make the most of the light. Anna and Bates would finally have the idyllic life they’ve always craved, with no police snooping around making trouble – well, not for long anyway.
Carson's Castle or The Formal Vacancy
Yes, another hospitality-based spin-off but if there's one thing the Downton staff know, it's how to look after a guest – and if there's one thing fans of the show love, it's a gorgeous country retreat...
With Downton Abbey closing its doors, it's high time Carson and Mrs Hughes (newly-married, we hope) kick-start their retirement. Leaving a life of full-time service behind, the love-birds head off into England's lush countryside and find themselves a B&B to run in their old age. And with guest-of-the-week storylines, there'd be plenty of opportunities for familiar faces from the Abbey to pop in for a night or two and update us on what they've been up to.
Branson goes... Stateside
He's tried living as a manor house-burning Irish rebel, the manager of a sprawling country estate, a chauffeur AND an aristocrat. But poor Tom Branson still hasn't found his place in the world. And if he's so intent on trying his luck in the land of stars and stripes, it's only fair that we follow him there in Branson goes... Stateside (y'all).
The show would see him travelling around the US of A in his old chauffeur car, trialling alternative ways of living. Think cattle herding on a ranch, trying to make it big in Hollywood or working front of house in Taco Bell. A bit like Paris Hilton's The Simple Life, but way more classy.
If the itchy-footed chauffeur still can't find the way of life for him the format can be replicated in other areas of the world, too. Branson goes... Scandi, Branson goes... Down Under. The possibilities are literally endless.
Just because Gregson's long gone, doesn't mean Edith needs to abandon her career as a fledgling journalist - she has a newspaper empire at her disposal now. The Newsroom could follow her as she forges ahead as a single-mum and career woman, living in London, rubbing shoulders with the great and good in the literary world and wowing the media industry as she runs the The Sketch singlehandedly.
Who needs put-downs from Mary and aggro from the Drewes when she can live alone - free of society's pressures -and galavant around London Town?
Take Mary Out
With so many suitors to choose from, Mary's had a tricky time of it lately. And, judging by her past indecision, we imagine she still won't have picked a husband by the end of series six.
Introducing Take Mary Out, a highly competitive game show hosted by Lady Mary Crawley and designed to put eligible bachelors through their paces. First up, the potential husband will be asked to reveal all about their social status, annual income, number of homes and personal feelings towards the aristocracy. Then their loved ones will dish the dirt on their past indiscretions and any bad habits they might be keeping under wraps (failing to dress for dinner, drinking white wine with red meats etc.)
The third and final round will see Mary set them various gruelling tasks, such as rehydrating a pig pen, escaping serious scandal, coping with a crying baby and holding their own against Violet Crawley in a quip-off. If they win, they get more than a trip to Fernandos... The lucky chap takes home Mary herself, plus half of the Crawley estate, a coveted title and a delightful set of farmyard animals.