As we reach the halfway point of Downton Abbey‘s final season on PBS, the question still remains how Masterpiece plans to continue to pull in blockbuster ratings now that the runway hit is finally heading out. They do have some backstop in place–Poldark, for example, may not quite be the explosive hit it was the first time around in the 1970s (when it did Downton Abbey like numbers), but it’s still a big name with great cache, and let’s face it, Aidan Turner without a shirt isn’t hurting anything. The new series Mercy Street, with is being billed as “Downton meet ER set in 1862″ has great hype, but until it starts pulling in real viewers, it’s no more than the American version of the over hyped BBC show Ripper Street.
What sits in the Downton slot next is important, because it speaks to where PBS thinks the the audience will turn next. And apparently they’ve decided the answer to that is another historical ITV production, this time on royalty instead of mere landed gentry. Victoria, which we’ve reported on in this space before, has the good fortune to be headlined by Jenna Coleman, who is at the peak of television name recognition, having just ended her run as one of Doctor Who‘s longest serving companions. Set about 100 years earlier than Downton Abbey, this series promises to trace Victoria’s 63 year reign over the course of as many seasons as ITV will keep renewing it. It also has loud competition from Netflix, whose own “The Queen” promises to trace the 63 year (and counting) reign of the current British Monarch, starting just a couple of decades later than the current Downton era.
Victoria has a good pedigree, coming from the makers of the new Poldark series. PBS is very bullish on its chances to really catch on with the same crowd, especially with the early focus on the 18-year-old monarch suddenly being thrust into power, and her courtship with Prince Albert. Masterpiece‘s executive producer Rebecca Eaton was enthusiastic at the TCAs.
“Downton Abbey has proved that millions of viewers will turn up year after year for a beautifully crafted period drama. Victoria has it all: a riveting script, brilliant cast, and spectacular locations. And it’s a true story! This is exactly the kind of programming Masterpiece fans will love.”
Coleman is the only actor with major name recognition in the US of the cast. Not that the others are slouches, with Tom Hughes as Prince Albert and Peter Firth and the Duke of Cumberland. There’s also the promise of an upstairs-downstairs dynamic with Eve Myles heading up the Downstairs division as the Queen’s lead dresser. Unlike Downton, there will along be a third dynamic, with the landed gentry as the in-between level, which should make for an interesting addition.
Victoria is currently planned as an eight part miniseries, with the potential to go several more seasons if it does well.