Andrew Davies, who wrote the script for The Three Musketeers and a slew of BBC period dramas, is adapting Lindy Woodhead’s nonfiction bestseller Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge for ITV Studios. I’m told that ITV hopes the story of how brash American retailer Harry Gordon Selfridge –”The Showman of Shopping” — opened the world’s first purpose-built department store in London in 1909 will repeat the success of Downton Abbey. That NBC Universal production has been a huge hit over here for ITV. Certainly there’s a plum role for the American actor playing Selfridge, who blew his fortune on mistresses and gambling before dying destitute. Selfridge’s girlfriends included famed dancer Isadora Duncan and Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. His massive overspending ultimately cost him control of Selfridges.
The second series of Downton Abbey, meanwhile, started shooting on location at Highclere stately home in Berkshire in March. Filming continues until July. PBS Masterpiece will premiere the second series on Jan. 8, 2012, following its ITV run starting this fall.
But that’s not the only bonnet-on-bonnet action coming your way on Masterpiece.
The second series of the BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs, a sequel to the original 1970s ITV show that chronicled the lives of the Edwardian Bellamy family, goes into production in September. The BBC originally announced its Upstairs Downstairs remake at the same time ITV unveiled Downton Abbey. “Upstairs Downstairs is elegantly entertaining but doesn’t reach the same heights as Downton Abbey,” sniffed the Daily Telegraph. Still, BBC1 controller Danny Cohen was pleased enough with the average 8.4 million viewers to commission another 6×60-minute series. There is no U.S. transmission date for Series 2 yet.
Masterpiece is also taking the BBC’s new three-hour miniseries of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. It starts shooting in August in time for Christmas. No casting has been announced. The writer is Sarah Phelps, who wrote the BBC’s Oliver Twist. It will be interesting to see whether this new Beeb version spikes the guns of Mike Newell’s planned feature film starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes. Newell plans to begin filming his version this fall.
Elsewhere, Masterpiece will air the three episodes of the Beeb’s Rome-set cop drama Zen on July 17. Zen was surprisingly dumped by new BBC1 controller Danny Cohen, despite drawing nearly 6 million viewers when it was broadcast. This would usually be enough to get a second series. Cohen said: “I felt that we risked having too many male detectives.” Producer Left Bank Pictures (The Special Relationship) tried to get the show picked up elsewhere without success. TV detective stalwarts Poirot and Miss Marple will also be returning to Masterpiece in June/July.
And shooting has just begun on another Masterpiece co-production, the second series of Sherlock, the Beeb’s acclaimed modern-day version of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman reprise their roles as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, respectively. Steven Moffat, showrunner of Doctor Who, is sharing writing duties with Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen) and another Doctor Who writer Stephen Thompson. The three 90-minute films will air on Masterpiece in spring 2012. Sherlock and Downton Abbey are vying for Best Drama Series at Sunday’s BAFTA TV awards.
Masterpiece does not have the lock on period British drama, though — or against-the-grain cops for that matter.
BBC America will air The Hour, a 1950s-set thriller about a BBC TV newsroom, late summer following its June premiere over here. Abi Morgan, writer of The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep, has penned this six-part series. Kudos, the production company behind MI-5, is the producer. Dominic West (The Wire), Romola Garai (Atonement) and Ben Whishaw (Brideshead Revisited) star as three newshounds working on a new weekly investigative news program, The Hour. Their passionate love triangle plays out against the backdrop of the Cold War and Ian Fleming’s world of espionage.
And Luther, starring Idris Elba, returns for four hour-long specials due to air this fall. Elba won a Golden Globe nomination for the 1st series of Luther. This time around, the detective comes up against a serial killer carrying out ritualistic murders in historic locations, working up to one final masterpiece. All sounds very Dan Brown.
BBC America is co-producing six episodes of hour-long supernatural drama The Fades, currently shooting in the UK. Jack Thorne, one of the busiest young writers in the UK today (Skins), has written the show. The Fades is set to air in the U.S. early 2012. Two former Skins actors, Lily Loveless and Daniel Kaluuya, star alongside Iain De Caestecker (Coronation Street). A teenager, haunted by apocalyptic dreams, starts to see spirits of the dead, known as The Fades, all around him. BBC America plans to show The Fades as part of its Supernatural Saturday lineup early 2012. Thorne says The Fades was partly inspired by NBC’s Freaks & Geeks, which is the one show he wishes he’d written.
Channel 4, meanwhile, is in negotiations with U.S. broadcasters about airing Misfits Stateside. This BAFTA-winning drama follows blue-collar teenagers cursed with superpowers. U.S. broadcasters are sniffing around for a remake.
And Sky, the UK pay-TV giant, has yet to have one of its original Brit drama series picked up for the U.S. — although it hopes to announce American deals imminently. Huw Kennair-Jones, Sky1 HD drama commissioning editor, tells me that Sky original UK shows such as cop miniseries Thorne, directed by Stephen Hopkins (24), and psychological thriller Mad Dogs -– second series shooting this summer — were very much shot with a U.S. sensibility in mind. Cinemax though is co-producing the 2nd series of Strike Back, the tough adventure series featuring Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom) and Philip Winchester (Fringe), currently shooting in South Africa and Hungary. The U.S. channel will air the series in late summer. Sky also has high hopes for Hit and Miss, its new six-episode drama created by Paul Abbott (State of Play) about a pre-op transsexual hitman who discovers he has a 10-year-old son from a girlfriend who has died. He moves to Yorkshire to look after his new-found son. Hit and Miss, the first original show to be on the Sky Atlantic/HBO channel, begins filming this summer. Starting shooting next week is Sinbad, Sky’s first attempt at family action adventure, going after that Doctor Who/Merlin audience. The 13-part series begins filming in Malta. BBC Worldwide, the Beeb’s TV sales arm, is co-producing with Sky. Kennair-Jones tells me that Sky has no plans for any period dramas, “because our friends elsewhere in the UK industry do it so well”