Downton to get New York makeover for US audiences

By Adam Sherwin

British TV series  Downton Abbey  has been a surprise hit in the US. Photo / Supplied
British TV series Downton Abbey has been a surprise hit in the US. Photo / Supplied

When Julian Fellowes offered his hit ITV series Downton Abbey to the US network NBC he was told American audiences would never sit through an Edwardian-era period drama.

But the broadcaster has had a change of heart after US viewers fell for the series and now Fellowes is to create an American Downton for NBC, set in 19th-century New York.

Three years after sending the Oscar-winning screenwriter packing, NBC has asked Fellowes to put an American twist on the British show, which has won six Emmy awards and achieved record ratings when screened by the Public Broadcasting Service.

The new show, whose working title is The Gilded Age, will be set in New York City in the 1880s and focus on the rising, and inevitably plunging, fortunes of the princes of the American Renaissance.

Fellowes, the executive producer, said: "This was a vivid time, with dizzying, brilliant ascents and calamitous falls, of record-breaking ostentation and savage rivalry; a time when money was king."

Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment, said the network was thrilled to have the immensely talented Fellowes on board. "Having him on our team represents a major creative coup," she said.

NBC, which hopes to get the show on air in the autumn, said it would be a sweeping epic. Historians define the Gilded Age as the boom time following the Civil War.

The period from 1877 to 1893 was one of huge economic growth for the US, as new railways connected a vast country scarred by political corruption and social inequality that followed industrialisation.

The series is expected to reference wealthy families like the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts, who attained huge wealth through rail and shipping and became New York royalty.

Traditionally, period drama does not fare well in US prime-time slots, which are dominated by crime shows, but Downton has built an audience of five million and become a talking-point, spawning dress-like-Downton TV segments and a range of unofficial merchandise, including a Lady Cora pearl set. Independent

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