The sixth and final season of Downton Abbey premieres tonight on PBS, at 9:00pm ET/PT. Executive producer, Gareth Neame, talked to Luke McCord at Broadcasting & Cable (B&C), about ending the show after six seasons, and the possibility a Downton Abbey movie. Neame is moving on to The Gilded Age, Julian Fellowes’ new series at NBC.
Introducing Neame, B&C notes that the EP’s first showbiz gig was on screen. When he was just a baby, he appeared in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, directed by his grandfather, Ronald Neame. What B&C does not mention, is that Downton Abbey star Maggie Smith won her first Academy award, playing that film’s title role.
Neame tells B&C that the decision to end Downton Abbey was a mutual one. Early reports suggested it was the cast’s decision not to return that made ending Downton necessary.
Who decided to end the show after six seasons and why?
It was really a mutual decision by the producers and the cast and something we’ve been talking about for a while. How long do we keep the show going? When do we bring it to an end? I think our feeling was that this was the right time to finish it, to quit while we’re still as popular as we are and while people still want more.
While Neame declined to spoil the upcoming sixth season of Downton Abbey for US fans, he did discuss its reception in UK, and later touched on the possibility of a Downton Abbey movie sequel, and mentioned working on The Gilded Age:
British audiences have seen most of the final season now and the feedback from a lot of people seems to be it was the best season yet. I definitely think it’s highly rewarding for fans of the show as they start to see what is going to happen, what the final outcome is for their favorite characters.
Are there any plans or interest for spin-offs, specials or sequels?
There have been conversations about a Downton Abbey movie, which is a possibility, but there are no firm plans at the moment. We are going to embark on a show for NBC called The Gilded Age, which is a bit similar in tone and subject matter. It’s set in the 19th century in New York and New England.
NBC first announced The Gilded Age more than three years ago, in a press release:
NBC AND UNIVERSAL TELEVISION ENTER DEAL WITH OSCAR, EMMY AND GOLDEN GLOBE-WINNING WRITER-PRODUCER JULIAN FELLOWES (“DOWNTON ABBEY”) TO CREATE AND PRODUCE HIS NEXT DRAMATIC SERIES
Fellowes to Write and Produce “The Gilded Age,” a Sweeping Epic in the Style of “Downton Abbey,” Depicting the World of the Millionaire Titans of 1880s New York
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – November 27, 2012 – NBC and Universal Television have entered into a deal with Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning writer-producer Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey,” “Gosford Park”) to create and produce his next dramatic television series, it was jointly announced today by Jennifer Salke, President, NBC Entertainment, and Bela Bajaria, Executive Vice President, Universal Television.
Fellowes, creator of “Downton Abbey,” will write and produce “The Gilded Age,” an epic tale of the princes of the American Renaissance, and the vast fortunes they made — and spent — in late nineteenth-century New York. “This was a vivid time,” says Fellowes, “with dizzying, brilliant ascents and calamitous falls, of record-breaking ostentation and savage rivalry; a time when money was king.”
“We at the network are all so thrilled to be working with the immensely talented Julian Fellowes, who is universally admired for his critically and commercially appealing productions,” said Salke. “Having him on our team represents a major creative coup and everyone is looking forward to his first NBC project in ‘The Gilded Age.'”
“Having been thoroughly impressed by Julian’s wit, eloquence, vast historical knowledge and collaborative nature in my past development experience with him, I’m thrilled to be continuing our relationship at Universal Television,” said Bajaria. “The opportunity to work with him again was a goal of mine at Universal Television and I’m very excited about this potential new series.”
Fellowes is the creator, writer and executive producer of “Downton Abbey,” the Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning television program that now continues in its third season and was recently renewed for a fourth. Fellowes will continue in those roles as he begins work on his new production deal with Universal Television.
Fellowes won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the film “Gosford Park.” His screenplay credits include the films “Vanity Fair,” “The Young Victoria,” and “The Tourist.” He made his directorial debut with “Separate Lies” for which he also wrote the screenplay. He also wrote and directed the independent film “From Time to Time” and the four-hour mini-series “Titanic.” In addition, Fellowes wrote the “book” for the Tony-nominated stage production of “Mary Poppins,” now running off-Broadway. Fellowes most recently wrote the script for a new production of “Romeo & Juliet” directed by Carlo Carlei.
Fellowes is represented by UTA, Independent Talent and attorney George Davis.
Brian Ford Sullivan, of The Futon Critic, posted an update on The Gilded Age, from the 2013 TCA Summer Press Tour:
Among its other projects, [NBC Entertainment President Jennifer] Salke indicates Julian Fellowes’s “The Gilded Age” is very much alive. “We love that,” she said. “We’re just waiting for him to emerge. He’s going to write all the episodes. He comes in and talks to us every three or four months and it’s wildly entertaining.” As for when we’ll see it, “the timeframe still is based on his availability.”
Fellowes wrote Downton Abbey, alone. As noted above, he will do the same on The Gilded Age, which is why the series has been in development for so long. In January 2015, Deadline‘s Nellie Andreeva reported on the show’s progress.
NBC tapped the Downton creator to create and executive produce The Gilded Age — a sweeping fictional epic of the millionaire titans of New York City in the 1880s — more than two years ago. But with Downton being a big global hit that (the ITV series is produced by NBCUniversal-owned Carnival Films) and Fellowes writing every episode of the intricate period drama, Gilded Age was put on the back burner, with NBC and Universal TV executive giving the Oscar and Emmy winner carte blanche to come work on the NBC series when he is ready/done with Downton.
“I think he’s at a point now where he’s able to start developing and writing our new show,” [NBC Chairman Bob] Greenblatt said. “Hopefully this show will be coming to life sometime in the next season.”
At the time, Andreeva took Greenblatt’s remarks as an indication that for Downton Abbey fans, the end was nigh. In March 2015, she was proven right. It was confirmed that there would be no seventh season for Downton Abbey; season six was announced as the drama’s last.
After the news broke, Deadline‘s Nancy Tartaglione asked Neame if Downton Abbey was ending to make room for The Gilded Age:
DEADLINE: Did The Gilded Age play any part in this? Julian told me last week that he wouldn’t work on Gilded Age until Downton was done. Will he now move on to that?
NEAME: (It only played a part) insofar as he has always said it. It’s pretty miraculous that one man writes a TV show on his own and clearly the idea of writing another (at the same time) is impossible so there was no way (he could do both). If we had wanted to go for another year, Julian would have waited another year before Gilded Age. This was more that we feel the time to quit is while we’re ahead. I don’t own him, I wish I did. We’re still hard at work on the upcoming season, but yes, he will graduate over to Gilded Age and maybe we’ll explore further the idea of a movie… We’re all thinking about what comes next.
Julian Fellowes discussed The Gilded Age with The Hollywood Reporter:
In creating a new historical drama about wealth and prestige, Fellowes — who also wrote Gosford Park — could be seen to be venturing into areas he’s already covered extensively. But he claims that there were some distinct differences when it came to class and acceptance into the elite between the U.K. in the time of Downton and late 19th century America.
“It was more of a winner-takes-all game in America at that time, because you could basically make the journey in one generation, whereas in England, that still wasn’t true. You needed to have been born at least halfway up the ladder to reach the top,” he says.
“So in a way, I think it makes the American drama more modern. I think we’re living in a world where people can go pretty much all the way, if not in every circumstance certainly in quite a lot of them, in one generation. That world is something the modern viewers can identify with and understand, which is a positive,” Fellowes explains.
Like Downton, Fellowes plans to create a fictional pool of characters for The Gilded Age and set them in an actual period of history, where real-life events — although he won’t reveal which — emerge infrequently to help act as reference points.
What do you think? Have you braced yourself for the final season of the Downton Abbey TV show? Do you like the sound of The Gilded Age?