PBS is playing to its strengths — British dramas, Ken Burns documentaries and plenty of political insight — with its just-announced fall schedule. As is custom with the public broadcaster, the emphasis is on Sunday night programming. With the success of Season 2 of Downton Abbey still fresh, PBS will air the UK hit miniseries Call The Midwife, debuting Sunday, September 30. Following Call The Midwife for most of the run is Season 2 of the new Upstairs Downstairs, airing Sundays Oct. 7 to Nov. 11. The latest documentary from Ken Burns, The Dust Bowl, airs Sunday November 18 and Monday November 19. In addition, PBS will repeat its well-received American Masters documentary on Dust Bowl folk hero Woody Guthrie on Thursday, November 16. With the political season heating up, PBS is ramping up its election coverage, once again airing “The Choice,” a politics-focused edition of the long-running Frontline on Tuesday, October 9. The public broadcaster will also air three Presidential debates and one Vice Presidential debate when they’re held in the fall.
The updated period drama’s axing comes with an ironic twist that only Downton Abbey‘s Dowager Countess might appreciate. The original Upstairs Downstairs aired on ITV from 1971 to 1975, with the reboot airing on BBC1 and often facing unfavorable comparison to Downton Abbey – which airs on ITV. The first 3-episode series of Upstairs Downstairs, which aired in the U.S. on PBS’ Masterpiece, ran in the UK in late 2010 and scored ratings averages of over 8 million. Its U.S. run produced six Emmy nominations. A second series, comprised of six episodes, has yet to air stateside, but the show took a ratings dive in the UK with its last installment tapping 5.22 million viewers. The series starred Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard, Claire Foy, Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. The latter pair co-created and starred in the original. The latest version was created by Heidi Thomas. In a statement on the BBC website, a spokesperson said: “From Call the Midwife to Bird Song and The Syndicate, 2012 has been a great year for Original British Drama on BBC1 but at this stage there are no plans for Upstairs Downstairs to return.” A Facebook page and a Twitter petition have been set up to save the show.
Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA
At an afternoon TCA panel promoting the new season of PBS’ Masterpiece series, exec producer Rebecca Eaton was asked to explain a story in Britain’s Daily Mail that charged the acclaimed period drama Downton Abbey (recently nominated for 11 Primetime Emmys) lost two hours of content in its journey from the UK to America. Sounding unusually contentious, the typically unflappable Eaton explained, “I’m glad you brought this up. This was a story in the Daily Mail. Do I have to say anything more? And they got it wrong and they made a big deal out of it, that we’d taken two hours out. It wasn’t true. Our version was overall 20 or 25 minutes shorter and had to do with (advertising) and the need for different formatting. We didn’t chop it up to make it more palatable to the dummies in the American audience — as it was implied.” Eaton was quick to add, “By the way, that reporter’s name was Christopher Hastings.”
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.