Downton Abbey executive producer Gareth Neame says Season 4 of the hit period drama will demonstrate that the show “never sits back on its laurels. It shakes up and moves on.” Neame spoke with me ahead of a press screening today of the first episode of the new season which brings the action into the Roaring Twenties. The series picks up in 1922, six months after the death of Dan Stevens’ character Matthew Crawley, whose fatal car crash came in the last minutes of the Season 3 Christmas episode. The “spine” of next season will be the fate of his widow, Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), as she heads to the next stage of her life, Neame tells me. It’s a “heavy situation to kick off with,” but it won’t be all brooding at the Grantham estate. The majority of the goings-on throughout the season will variously be “dramatic, comedic and romantic.” The audience is “still left reeling with the death of Matthew” as it comes to the new season, but Neame says he and Downton creator Julian Fellowes, “have always said that while it was clear we didn’t want to lose Dan, we weren’t able to persuade him (to stay) and so we rethought the whole thing. It was positive for the story.” READ MORE »
TCA: PBS Chief Paula Kerger Credits ‘Downton Abbey’ In Part For Ratings Spike; Series To Return January 5
Add PBS CEO Paula Kerger to the list of network chiefs not buying what NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt was selling at Summer TV Press Tour about Flat being the new Up, ratings-wise. PBS is up 5% in primetime this year versus last, Kerger noted this morning at the tour. A chunk of that increase comes from the whopping 26% ratings spike PBS is enjoying on Sundays, thanks largely to Downton Abbey – which, irony of ironies, is a property of NBCUniversal International. Downton, Kerger noted, clocked around 8 million viewers in its most recent run, which makes it PBS’ most watched scripted series ever and the second most watched program of any genre, behind only Ken Burns’ docu The Civil War. “We are living in a golden era of drama in television…Sunday night on public television has become a great night for drama,” Kerger gloated.
She thanked cable networks that once gave PBS stiff content competition for “pivoting” in their programming strategy which “left a big opening” for public broadcasting.
Global Showbiz Briefs: Murderous Coloring Book Yanked; China’s Pop Culture Snobs; Canal Plus Series Lineup Set; More
Coloring Book Based On Horror Movies Yanked In UK After Marketing Gaffe
UK retailer Tesco has pulled a horror-movie-themed coloring book from its website after it was mistakenly marketed to children ages 5 to 8. The book, Colour Me Good Arrggghhhh!! includes images from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction. According to the BBC, Tesco said the book had been placed in the wrong category when listed on its website by a third-party seller. Author, artist and publisher Mel Elliott said the book is indeed meant for an adult audience of “playful grown-ups.”
Brit TV Dramas Drive ‘Snobbish Pop-Cultural Hierarchy’ In China
British dramas such as Downton Abbey and Sherlock are big hits at home and abroad, but in China they’re also part of what the Wall Street Journal calls “an increasingly snobbish pop-cultural hierarchy.” Described by local media as a “disdain chain,” it works like this: British drama fans look down on folks who prefer U.S. shows, and they in turn look down on Korean soap fans. The lowest of the low in the disdain chain are fans of domestic dramas. The taste for high-end British fare like Downton and Sherlock is a growing phenomenon. Entgroup compiled levels of discussion on different social media sites to find that British dramas are catching on with the wealthy youth and account for upwards of 9% of foreign TV discussion. Also notable, more than half of those who follow British dramas on social media sites have at least a bachelor’s degree, Entgroup found. Hit Brit shows like Downton are expected to have 160M online followers in the next two to three years. Sohu.com, Youku Tudou and Tencent all have dedicated online channels for British dramas and the Journal says the latter two are competing to sign exclusive deals with distributors like BBC Worldwide and Fremantle Media to stream the shows.
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.
On giving advice
In a way, I always think advice is rather impertinent really, because I’m not aware of knowing anything that anyone else doesn’t. I suppose the only thing I would say to young writers is if you want to do these courses and read these books, just remember that the element that gets you started is the one thing that everyone else has not got. In a way, they are teaching you to do it like everyone else did. I didn’t do any of that.
Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor.
Last August, just a month after PBS had earned 58 Primetime Emmy nominations — including 16 for breakout hit Downton Abbey — presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Forbes he would eliminate the $445 million federal subsidy for public broadcasting if elected president. But while candidates and voters still remain divided on the political value of public broadcasting, the TV Academy is decidedly on PBS’ side. Last year, PBS was the third most-nominated network, and Downton Abbey earned the network its first nomination in the best drama series category since Upstairs, Downstairs, which won the statuette in 1977.
PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger says the attention was welcome, but insists PBS is doing nothing different. “We’ve stayed focused on our core, which is to create quality content that connects to people,” she says. Kerger believes critics who say commercial networks would air these shows without a government subsidy might, in some cases, be right. But she argues that a show like Downton is successful in part because it is on PBS. “We have on Sunday nights an audience that really loves this kind of programming, so we were able to build on an existing audience and add into it,” she says.
Michael Ausiello is Editor-in-Chief of TVLine.
At a glance, this list of probable contenders for the drama Emmy will look a lot like last year’s. AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad are back. So are PBS’ Downton Abbey, HBO’s Game Of Thrones and, of course, 2012’s winner, Showtime’s Homeland. But also included among the frontrunners this year—as if the broadcast networks didn’t have a hard enough time getting any noms!—is Netflix’s first entry, House Of Cards. How will the wildcard fare against the cablers? While you ponder that question, here’s our assessment of its chances, as well as those of 23 other series and their stars:
Related: EMMYS: Comedy Series Overview
Since FX’s 1980s-set spy yarn is still in its freshman season—and still suffering from comparisons to Showtime’s Homeland—its best bets for nominations are its standout leads, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. But, since neither TV vet has been recognized before by the Emmys, even they are, if not long shots, pretty far-off medium shots.
Though A&E’s attempt to out-AMC with its moody Psycho prequel has scored big in the ratings, it isn’t the series but rather Oscar-nominated star Vera Farmiga who stands the best chance of receiving a nod.
HBO’s Prohibition-era shoot-’em-up had a superlative season. But, since this category is more crowded than a Game Of Thrones cast party—and the show has never generated as much heat as its gangsters have packed—it’s unlikely to eke out a third consecutive nomination. On the other hand, Bobby Cannavale—so good as the year’s Big Bad, Gyp Rosetti—is all but assured a TK nod.
Related: EMMYS: Movie/Miniseries Overview
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.
What two popular TV show titles are least likely to occur in the same sentence? There is no single answer, but British producer Gareth Neame was decidedly taken aback when a family member came up with this combo: “We used to have Dallas. Now we have Downton.” Downton is, of course, the PBS Masterpiece hit Downton Abbey, the sprawling saga of the fabulously wealthy Crawley family, unfolding at the family’s English country estate. And Dallas is, well Dallas (1978-1991) CBS’ soapy saga of Texas oil baron J.R Ewing, set on the lavish Southfork Ranch. While the worlds of feathered bonnets and 10-gallon hats couldn’t seem more different, Downton executive producer Neame says the comparison confirmed what he’d been thinking when he proposed the series to creator-writer Julian Fellowes: Once again, there is room for the nighttime soap on the TV landscape.
As in the era of Dallas—which spawned Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing—the primetime soap has surged in popularity with viewers. Along with the crown jewel Downton Abbey, witness the appearance of new and glamorous multigenerational sagas including ABC’s Nashville and Revenge. To prove the point, there’s even a new Dallas on TNT, with some of the original stars including Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy (J.R.’s “good” brother Bobby) returning to ruin each other’s lives for a new generation of viewers.
Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Downton Abbey has become famous for killing off its characters whose actors have come to the end of their three-year deals – most traumatically Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens) at the end of season three, devastating viewers on both sides of the Atlantic. But there is really only one Downton-ite whose demise would be utterly catastrophic: co-creator and sole writer Julian Fellowes. The unthinkable was pondered tonight during a jam-packed event at the TV Academy designed to drum up some Emmy enthusiasm for the Masterpiece costume drama/soap. It had been revealed in February that Fellowes had signed on to write and produce the NBC period drama The Gilded Age. The question tonight was whether Fellowes could work on both shows simultaneously if it came to that. Answer: No.
So then, asked moderator Pete Hammond of Deadline, when might Downton be ending? “Well,” replied Fellowes, “we’re always reading in the papers when it’s ending, but we don’t know when it’s ending ourselves so how can some journalist know? I think it’s still got some legs to it.” While that’s somewhat of a coy answer, Fellowes admitted earlier this year that it’s possible he might need to devote himself full time to Gilded Age while leaving the Downton writing duties to others.
Now it gets serious. Emmy ballots become active at 6 PM PT tonight for all 16,000+ active voting members of the Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences and are due by snail mail to Academy accountants Ernst & Young by June 28 at 5 PM PT. Although, unlike the Oscars and other awards voting groups, there is no direct online voting option for the TV Acad yet (but certainly there will be one eventually), the list of eligible shows and individual achievements with corresponding numbers for the Scranton computer ballot can be accessed via a special Emmy web address or on old-fashioned paper if members request it. Trying to influence those members (full disclosure: I serve on the Academy’s Board Of Governors representing the Writers branch) just as voting gets underway are the Television Critics Association which (coincidentally?) announced their nominations today and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association which (coincidentally?) holds its awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton tonight. But even as these are well-timed events, the TV Academy generally has a mind of its own and often is much slower to embrace the newer, quirkier programs these groups tend to endorse in a big way.
But things are looking up and the Academy does seem to be responding to new blood. Last year Homeland in only its first season dethroned four-time champ Mad Men. Lena Dunham’s edgy Girls and FX’s Louie also made waves. On the other hand the very deserving Breaking Bad, a critical favorite, has yet to win a Drama Series Emmy even as it ends its run later this summer (though stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul have won multiple times). Those final eight shows will be running just as the last phase of Emmy voting is taking place in August and could be a factor even though those episodes won’t be eligible until next year as cutoff was May 31. Last summer’s batch of eight is what voters will be assessing this year.
London Mayor Boris Johnson has pledged to invest £2M ($3M) to broaden the reach of Film London, the body responsible for attracting film and TV shoots to the British capital. The org’s remit will be expanded to bring in £200M in additional expenditure and to create 1,000 industry jobs. With the new 25% tax rebate for high-end drama and animation coming into effect this past Monday, the UK is angling to stem runaway production and encourage foreign shows to shoot in Britain. Sam Mendes’ Showtime series Penny Dreadful will be among the first U.S. TV dramas to benefit. But when the tax credit was recently cleared, it stirred fears that the funds ear-marked for the rebate could be gobbled up by U.S. productions employing British talent on UK shores.
Johnson today stressed the importance of both local and foreign productions. Unveiling the plan at Ealing Studios, home to the Downton Abbey set, Johnson said, “We have an unprecedented opportunity to grow this exciting sector to deliver jobs, produce more world class British drama and, above all, make London the city of choice for TV and animation production… Let’s make sure that all future Downtons are filmed on our turf.”
Ari Gold returns to U.S. TV screens on Sunday, sans BlackBerry and decked out in a three-piece suit — though it won’t be a Brioni. PBS/Masterpiece will debut department store period drama Mr. Selfridge at 9 PM with Jeremy Piven playing the real-life ‘Mile a Minute Harry Selfridge’, the impresario who changed the way women shopped in early 1900s London. Whether the show can take the U.S. by storm, à la PBS mega-hit Downton Abbey, will come to bear over the first series’ run of 10 episodes. But as much as “period drama” has become a sort of blanket term, there are stark differences to the two shows. Both air in the UK on ITV, and The Guardian compared Selfridge to Downton upon its January UK debut, saying, “You can sit back and relax and not expect anyone to die suddenly without warning — only a minor altercation in the ladies glove department.”
Selfridge is an in-house ITV Studios production that garnered strong ratings from the outset in the UK, averaging over 8M viewers during its run from January through March. (It also beat the BAFTA Awards on February 10 despite the kudocast grabbing its highest numbers in a decade.) Downton Abbey, for its third season, had consolidated ratings averaging 11.9M.
The series is set in Selfridge’s department store, the shopping mecca that American entrepreneur Harry Selfridge built in 1909 and which still stands today on Oxford Street. The cast of characters includes shopgirls, socialites and a sexy (male) French window-dresser. At a screening of the first episode late last year, Piven said playing Selfridge was like “artistic sorbet.” At a TCA panel in January, he said he felt no competition pressure with Downton. “I feel like I willed this job to happen because I was such a fan of that show… I think there’s a great deal of camaraderie there.” It will be interesting to see the response given how strongly U.S. viewers equate the actor to his multiple Emmy-winning role in Entourage. Reviews in the UK, where it’s safe to say audiences are less familiar with “hugging it out”, have been largely positive apart from a few claims of hammy acting. The Guardian called it “polished, lavish, enjoyable period stuff” and of the series finale, The Arts Desk wrote: “Mr. Selfridge has had periodically decent thesping and plenty of visual glamour, but frocks alone do not a drama make.”
Downton Abbey‘s third-season opener and closer on Masterpiece Classic strongly outpaced ratings for comparable Season 2 shows — the February 17 finale even beat all of its broadcast and cable competition in primetime. So, it’s no surprise that national household ratings for the entire season were record-breakers. In news that might make even Carson crack a smile, PBS and WGBH said today that a total of 24M viewers tuned in to visit with the Crawley family over seven weeks of Season 3 episodes. That’s a 7M-viewer increase from last year and makes the show PBS’ highest-rated drama ever. The season had a 7.7 average and an average season audience of 11.5M viewers, according to Nielsen Live+7 data. Those figures are up 64% and 65%, respectively, over Season 2. On the UK’s ITV, Season 3 was also the biggest so far and had an overall average of 9.7M viewers.
The figures are notable given the high-stakes spoilers that were parading around the Internet while the show was airing in the UK ahead of its U.S. broadcast. They also set up quite a challenge for Season 4, which is currently shooting with a series of new castmembers — and sans some important ones who ducked out last year.