"Sherlock" starring Benedict Cumberbatch will return to public TV in January, keeping company on Sunday nights with the "Downton Abbey" crowd.
Season three of the modern Sherlock Holmes mystery series will begin on January 19, PBS said on Wednesday. It was previously announced that the fourth season of "Downton" will begin Jan 5.
The scheduling reflects PBS' new strategy of pairing dramas on Sunday, part of a broader effort to build "flow within a given night in our schedule," said Beth Hoppe, PBS' chief programming executive.
Prime-time viewership on Sunday, home to primarily British dramas, grew 26% last season with the new approach, Hoppe said, and "Sherlock" and "Downton Abbey" were seen as good partners.
Overall, PBS' prime-time ratings were up 7% last season compared to the year before, Hoppe said.
"Downton Abbey," the hit drama about the lives and loves of landed gentry and their servants, will be preceded by a December 1 special, "Return to Downton Abbey." Hosted by Susan Sarandon, it will offer a look at past seasons and a peek at the one ahead.
As in the past, the drama's new season already is in progress on Britain's ITV. PBS has resisted timing the US to the UK airings, saying the January debut works better for its schedule - a move that's allowed spoilers to cross the Atlantic.
But PBS relented with BBC's "Sherlock," which is scheduled closer to its yet-to-be announced British airing, Hoppe said.
The busy Benedict Cumberbatch, whose current movies include "The Fifth Estate" and "12 Years a Slave," is part of another PBS program, "Hawking," a January 29 documentary about British physicist Stephen Hawking as told by him.
Cumberbatch, who played Hawking in a 2004 TV movie, is a friend of the scientist and appears in the film, Hoppe said.