The curious success of ITV’s Downton Abbey has raised the statuses of all involved onto the world stage. Part old-school costume soap opera and part socially conscious drama, Downton has no doubt sparked a renewed interest in period drama on network television.
In perhaps the first indicator of a new wave of historical series, NBC has announced that it has contracted with Downton Abbey‘s main creative force, Julian Fellowes, to pen the script for an American take on aristocracy. Taking place in the 1880s, The Gilded Age is expected to be the stateside answer to Downton.
According to TV Line, NBC hopes to replicate the success of Downton Abbey with the help of that series’ own creator. The Gilded Age will follow the lives of the so-called “Robber Barons” of late-1800s New York – families such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Astors, and Morgans. These millionaires and their families will navigate a period that was as simultaneously stagnant and in flux, caught up in rising social trends and technological change.
Julian Fellowes has a long and accomplished history both in television and film. He has acted onscreen since the 1970s and began writing screenplays in the early 90s. Before Downton Abbey, Fellowes penned the scripts to noted movies such as Gosford Park, Vanity Fair, and The Tourist (perhaps we should ignore that last one).
While NBC’s intent to create “an American Downton Abbey” with The Gilded Age is utterly transparent, it’s not exactly an unwelcome development. Downton‘s mixture of melodrama and nuance is lacking on many American network dramas. Julian Fellowes has a knack for making complicated social dynamics and class-conscious dialogue pop, which will go a long way toward making a series about the ultra-rich palatable. If Fellowes sticks to his guns, he will end up dividing time – like Downton and previous productions – for both the powerful and the servants that prop them up.
As interesting as the premise of The Gilded Age is, it does smack of leaping unashamedly onto Downton Abbey‘s bandwagon. Even with Fellowes involved, there’s a possibility that the series will simply ape Downton‘s style and cadence – only with a New York blueblood accent rather than a posh British one. That said, the difference in social dynamics – both in time and geography – could make for a completely different sort of show. At the very least, The Gilded Age may end up being the bellwether on a coming tide of American costume dramas.
Kyle Hembree blogs at Screen Rant.