March 26, 2015 will be marked as a dark day for PBS, given that Downton Abbey single-handedly put the network’s Masterpiece franchise back on the map and in the black. Masterpiece EP Rebecca Eaton that morning acknowledged the series has “been a game-changer” for the franchise that struggled for years to find a corporate sponsor, until Downton came along and made it once again the prettiest frock in the shop.
Ending Downton with Season 6 set in 1925, rather than taking the long-running ITV/PBS series through the stock market crash of 1929 leaves “a lot of rich territory” to explore if a movie “ever happens,” Carnival Films chief Gareth Neame told grieving journalists at the Television Critics Association summer tour on Saturday evening.
“There’s rumor and speculation,” Neame said when pressed. “I’m not denying anything; I think a Downton movie could be a wonderful thing. But we don’t have a script or plan yet,” he said – “yet” being the word the assembled press seized upon.
Asked about the decision to end the hit series at the end of Season 6, which will debut on PBS on January 3, 2016, star Hugh Bonneville corrected that Season 6 actually was an extension and the cast originally had thought Downton was ending with Season 5. But, Bonneville said, series creator Julian Fellowes “said he felt it would be bit truncated trying to bring to land in that fifth season,” and that he “wanted to do another nine episodes to make all the stories land in a more appropriate way.”
“We made a group decision,” Neame said. “I’m glad my friends at PBS … and ITV didn’t want to cancel the show, but everyone was being completely supportive of Julian and the cast, who felt now was the right time. I’m sure we could have made a Season 7, but it’s about leaving a little earlier than you might. Nobody goes into a TV series expecting to be there, six years later. I think if we had finished at 5 that would have been short-changing a global audience. And if we tried to eke out Season 8 it would have felt like we were running out of ideas,” he said, adding that the show is leaving on a “high note.”
When one petulant journalist said she did not want the series to end, he shot back, “The best thing I can hear is that you don’t want the show to end, and then take a month off and watch the whole thing again now that you have a sense of the whole story,” Neame said. “And I want you to love it for the rest of your life.”
Asked what they will miss or have learned from doing the show, Elizabeth McGovern, aka Cora Crawley, said, “I will miss the peace of it.”
“I miss this world where everybody knew their place and life seemed so quiet by comparison,” she continued, warming to her theme. “In today’s world we contend with much more information than we can actually absorb and handle in our emotional development and it produces a low-grade anxiety all the time … In the world of Downton Abbey we only know the circle that is in front of our face and know our job and place, and how to behave. And there are limits to that life, of course, but it’s peaceful.”
Joanne Froggatt, aka Anna Bates, countered that the series made her realize “how lucky she is to be living in this time compared to “the lack of opportunity for women … unless you were born in the aristocracy” in the time Downton was set. “That’s something that’s stuck with me – this freedom.”
“The one thing I learned from the show is that only people who smoke cigarettes are up to no good,” added Hugh Bonneville, aka Robert Crawley, providing much needed comic relief.
“When you had a dress made, it was made for you,” added Penelope Wilton, aka Isobel Crawley. “You had fewer things, but when it was made, it was tailor-made.”
“I’ll miss the clothes,” sighed Michelle Dockery, who got to wear very nice ones, playing Lady Mary.
“I won’t miss mine,” jumped in Frogatt, who did not.
In March, NBCUniversal-owned Carnival Films, the producer of Downton Abbey, announced Season 6 would be the final one for the worldwide hit TV drama. The news wasn’t entirely surprising; last January NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt told TV critics that Julian Fellowes‘ long awaited NBC period drama The Gilded Age had been put on the front burner – disturbing news for Downton fans, given that he wrote every episode of the PBS juggernaut.
“I’ll miss being on a hit TV show,” said McGovern, getting in the last word on that subject.