Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Today’s TCA panel on PBS’ new Masterpiece Classic series Mr. Selfridge — a period drama starring Jeremy Piven as real-life department store entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge — was haunted by the ghost of Downton Abbey. On March 31, the new drama will join the megahit Downton on Sunday nights, so it is not surprising that Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton announced at the top of the session that the premiere of Mr. Selfridge on Britain’s ITV a couple of weeks ago rated higher that the premiere of “that other show.”
Creator Andrew Davies said on the panel that no decision has been made on a second season but “I’ve already written the first [episodes] of Season 2. We should hear very soon. We’ve done such good numbers in the UK; I’m very confident.” He said that in his mind, he’s up for four seasons: “Are you up for it, Jeremy?” he joked. Replied Piven: “I certainly hope I have the job, yeah. To be replaced at this point would be very disappointing. And confusing. It could be like Darrin on Bewitched, I guess.”
During the panel that featured Piven, Davies and co-stars Zoe Tapper and Frances O’Connor., Eaton stressed the differences between Selfridge (based on the nonfiction book by Lindy Woodhead) and Downton. She said that while both shows have “gorgeous people, money, life and death, seduction,” this story is based on reality. Plus she said, the department store world is a different “precinct beside the country house and the house in town. I don’t know why it hasn’t been done before.”
Related: TV Trailer: ‘Mr. Selfridge’
After the panel, she acknowledged that Masterpiece would love to repeat Downton’s success with a similar show. “We’re adding another member. It’s always risky and I think its inevitable that you want to do more of what works,” she said. “So when there is a hit show like Downton, I think there’s an enormous urge to capitalize on the attention it brings Masterpiece and to build on the audience that we’ve attracted, this seemed like kind of a perfect fit. But you have to vary it. It’s not another country house.”
For his part, Piven said after the panel that 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”, which he said he discovered on Netflix. “They are kind of our lead-in on PBS, our ads run on their show. So they’ve provided a great deal of help for us, I think there’s a great deal of camaraderie there.”
Piven was asked about going to period drama after the very contemporary Entourage. He said he was first and foremost attracted to Davies’ script: “As I was reading it, I was willing my beard to grow.” The actor said he had planned not to go into TV again, but “there was no way I could say no.”
Piven grew up in Chicago, ogling the glossy window displays at Marshall Field’s. He described getting a role in a Masterpiece series “like telling a Jewish mother you’re going to be a doctor. You’ve made it.” He described the real-life Selfridge’s rise and fall as akin to Greek tragedy.
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