'Downton Abbey': Maggie Smith leaving is not something to worry about

maggie-smith-downton.jpgNews broke on March 2 that several main cast members of "Downton Abbey," the popular British drama that has recently taken the U.S. by storm, have re-signed to the show for Seasons 4 and 5. But instead of just being happy about those who have signed on and waiting patiently for word on those who have not, everyone seems to have lost their minds.

There are headlines all over the internet about Maggie Smith, who plays Dowager Countess on the program, that are essentially wailing and gnashing their teeth over the fact that she isn't returning to the show.

Except no one ever said that. It is all ridiculous chatter meant to drive pageviews by eliciting panic in "Downton" fans.

It's not as if all the cast members have inked new contracts except for Maggie Smith. In fact, the only ones who have re-signed are Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle. Sure, those people constitute several main characters on the show.

But that leaves quite a few other main cast members up in the air, such as Dan Stevens, Jessica Brown Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Penelope Wilton, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Siobhan Finneran, Rob James-Collier, Sophie McShera, Lesley Nicol and Allen Leech. Good grief, people. Let's not all start searching for the rat poison so we can off ourselves Mrs. Bates-style over the prospect of Maggie Smith not returning when we don't even know that she isn't.

It takes time to work it all out. Season 3 only began shooting three weeks ago. It won't air in the U.K. until September 2012. It won't air in the U.S. until January 2013. Seasons 4 and 5 have yet to be commissioned by ITV, the channel in Britain that airs the program.

The show has been wildly successful, so we would assume Seasons 4 and 5 are on the horizon. We also would bet that all the main characters will be back. The fact that one person among a host of others has yet to re-negotiate her contract should not be cause for alarm just yet.

As the Dowager Countess would say, "Don't be defeatist, dear. It's very middle class."

Photo/Video credit: PBS