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'Downton Abbey' to wind up after sixth season

"I think our feeling is that it's good to quit while you're ahead."

LONDON — The hugely popular British period drama "Downton Abbey" will wind up after a sixth season, its executive producer Gareth Neame said on Thursday.

"There's so many different explanations" for the decision, Neame said in a conference call with reporters to announce the sixth season would be the last. "I think our feeling is that it's good to quit while you're ahead."

The period production set in early 20th-century Britain highlights the "upstairs-downstairs" class divisions of the time and the impact of social change and world events in plots filled with human drama.

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It has become one of the biggest international hits ever for British television, watched from China and Sweden to Russia and South Korea, with viewership in America surpassing all expectations and setting records for U.S. public service broadcaster PBS.

Neame denied recent media speculation the show was being wound up so that its main writer and creator, Julian Fellowes, could go to work on other projects.

"I would not be inclined to try and keep the show alive without Julian, he is the creator of the show, he's written every episode, he's created all of those characters and it's just been a fantastic partnership," Neame said. "But it really isn't the case that Julian has said, 'I want out, I want to do other things' and everyone else has been forced."

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