Downton Abbey will get its own float at the Rose Bowl Parade on January 1, to plug the PBS hit drama’s final season debut two nights later on January 3.

PBS chief Paula Kerger, announcing the Season 6 kickoff stunt this morning at TCA, called it a “beautiful sendoff” but declined to give any more details except that “it’s a float and will have a lot of flowers on it and it will be a Downton Abbey theme. Sometimes at public television we are accused of not having a sense of humor, or fun, or whimsy. And no, I won’t be on it.”

“There is no question [Downton Abbey] has been a great gift. It definitely has gotten more people watching public television again,” she continued.

The soapy period drama demonstrated a TV program still can “bring people together, watching television, which some of us think is a moment in our past,” she said. “That kind of collective viewing, people will make an effort to be home to watch it together. We’re inherently social beings. You can watch Downton a gazillion ways … but people will make an effort to watch Sunday nights,” she said noting the 65K people who “came out in the snow and the dark” to attend screening parties held by member stations around the country for the debut of Season 5.

“And for our stations it was very powerful in getting people not only engaged, but to believe it is possible to have these kinds of breakout successes again. At a time when the financial meltdown was challenging everybody, but particularly thos who work in the non-profit space, it gave us a tremendous lift.”

More controversially, a third season of Finding Your Roots was already being made when PBS execs found out EP/host Henry Louis Gates Jr. had censored an episode at the request of its subject Ben Affleck, but the series will not air until PBS is comfortable it’s been properly vetted and the show’s future beyond that has not been determined, Kerger said.

“We are working with WETA and producers to insure have right processes in place to make sure content delivered is of a quality and accuracy that is the hallmark of public television,” she told journalists this morning at TCA. She said new guidelines should be in place and that “there will be a third season. It’s too early to say if there will be a fourth season,” she said.

She said she hopes the series returns because “Dr. Gates has his own unique approach” and young viewers like this celebrity-story approach to learning history. “The fact we found out about [the censorship] by reading Wikileaks was most unfortunate of all,” she said of the incident’s multiple problems.

“Not that we look for teachable moments but this was one,” she said, and has served as a reminder to all public TV producers that “all programs we bring to our air have to adhere to standards reminder to all our producers we take this seriously.”

In June, after news broke Finding Your Roots host and EP Henry Louis Gates Jr. had yanked reference to Affleck’s slave-owning ancestory from the program at Affleck’s request, PBS announced it had pulled that episode from all Image (4) pbs_logo_20110328235546-300x168.jpg for post 293046forms of distribution and would not schedule a third season until the production team implemented staffing and other changes to significantly improve the ability of PBS and WETA (now the producing station) to keep an eye on the show’s production. PBS ombudsman Mike Getler said, in his review of the debacle, that the changes likely would not fix the real problem: the “judgment” of Gates, which Getler said was “deadly” for public broadcasting.

In April, when WikiLeaks released a searchable archive of hacked Sony emails, it revealed Gates had emailed  Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, instead of PBS higher-ups, to get guidance about the request of a “megastar” to strike from an episode the discovery he is the descendant of a slave owner.  In the email, Gates said to do so “would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman” and “would embarrass him and compromise our integrity” and that “once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.” And yet, that’s just what Gates did after Lynton advised taking out the Ben Affleck slave-owning ancestor reference.