NEW YORK -- A grand manor will close its doors to its millions of weekly guests after "Downton Abbey" concludes next year.
Producers of the popular British period drama on Thursday confirmed the saga will end after its sixth season, scheduled to air in the United States in early 2016. The finale will air earlier in England - on Christmas Day, 2015.
"Our feeling is that it's good to quit while you're ahead," executive producer Gareth Neame said during a conference call. "We feel the show is in incredibly strong shape, the scripts that we're working on for the upcoming season are fantastic, and the show is so popular globally. But the danger with this sort of thing is to let it go on forever."
He said the decision to wrap was made by him and Julian Fellowes (who created the series and has written every episode) in conjunction with the cast.
Asked about a rumored "Downton Abbey" feature film, Neame said, "It would be great fun to do," but added there so far are no plans in place, nor are there plans for a series spinoff.
The much-acclaimed drama has tracked the fates of the aristocratic Crawley clan and their servants amid the social upheavals of pre-World World I England into the 1920s, as the characters of both upper and lower classes cope with their rapidly changing world.
Stars include Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern and Maggie Smith.
The series premiered on Britain's ITV network in 2010, and on PBS' "Masterpiece" anthology in early 2011, inspired in part by the 2001 Robert Altman film, "Gosford Park" (written by Fellowes), and presented as a variation on the British classic "Upstairs, Downstairs.""Let's not forget," said Neame, "when we set out to do this in the first place, we thought we would have a good success in the UK and that very traditional outlets for British content globally would be there."
But almost instantly "Downton" took on a life of its own.
In Britain, "Downton Abbey" became the highest-rating drama of the past decade, with an average of 11 million viewers over its five seasons.
Season 5, which concluded in the U.S. earlier this month, had an average audience of 12.9 million viewers.
"We did not know we would be in 250 territories worldwide," Neame said. "We didn't know we would be one of the biggest shows on American television. We would have been perfectly happy for it to run for three seasons, then end it."
While Neame acknowledged the temptation to carry on such a successful venture indefinitely, the series, he said, "has always been viewed by everyone involved as a bespoke, well-crafted piece of popular television."
Production of the upcoming 13-hour season is well under way, he said, but he kept mum about details apart from saying all the current characters would return, with satisfying resolutions.
"We very much have an eye to where the characters will end up," he said. "What will become of poor Edith? Will Anna and Bates ever get a break? People want to know these things!"
While the decision to end "Downton" was reached through a process of many conversations, Neame said having now made the decision official meant "a very emotional day for all of the people involved in the show."
'Downton Abbey' to end after upcoming 6th season