SPAA Conference: Executive Producer Gareth Neame on Downton Abbey
With six Emmys, two BAFTAs and a Guinness World Record for having the highest critical rating for a television series, British period drama Downton Abbey is one of the most successful miniseries in recent years.
The secret to this success? According to executive producer, Gareth Neame, one of the primary factors – at least in the UK – was airing the show on a network not typically associated with costume dramas.
The show's first and second series have both aired on ITV, a channel better known for producing fare such as I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
"I wanted to have a great distance between Downton and the sort of core, traditional British costume drama," Neame revealed at the SPAA conference. "Ninety per cent of them come out of the BBC, ninety five per cent of them are book adaptations from Victorian novels that have a very particular flavour, a particular style.
"This isn't that kind of show at all, it may be set in the past, but it's the recent past, where there are as many similarities between us and the people that lived in those days as there are differences."
Neame felt that the contemporary, soap opera-esque narrative of the series would suit a commercial network.
"It was my dream to think that it would begin on a Sunday night, at 9 o'clock after The X-Factor, so there you have 10, 11, 12 million people – kids, the elderly, people over the social divides – you really have everyone available. It's one of those occasions where a plan completely worked."
By placing Downton Abbey on ITV, Neame believes the ratings were double what they would have been on the BBC.
"The way we made the show and the way we scheduled it on that network was the winning combination."
Written by Oscar-winning screenwriter of Gosford Park, Julian Fellowes. the show follows the lives of the Crawley family and their servants in the lead-up to World War One.
The first series aired on Seven earlier this year, with an average audience of two million viewers. The second season has already been screened in the UK, but will not be shown in Australia until 2012.