×

Emmys: ‘Downton Abbey’ Faces Paparazzi, Cast Challenges

Series had to confront several major issues

Approaching its third season, the creators of PBS Masterpiece’s “Downton Abbey” had to confront several major issues: Two lead characters were set to depart, weddings were planned, and trespassing photographers were becoming a nuisance coming out of the bushes of real-life location Highclere Castle.

“The show became harder to make because of its popularity, ironically,” says exec producer Gareth Neame. “We’d have paparazzi in the undergrowth for hours trying to get a great shot.”

That meant constructing fake leaks and fake screens around location sets and releasing misleading photographs so that audiences wouldn’t be tipped off to some of the key moments: namely, how Matthew was departing (once it got out that Dan Stevens was not re-upping) or that Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) died in childbirth. Mary’s dress in her wedding to Matthew was also a top-secret priority, as was the fact that poor Edith was left at the altar. And the show was clever: Since Sybil didn’t die in childbirth but shortly after, producers could let out a photo of her holding her child to make her actual death in the episode that much more surprising.

“We had a bit of fun,” chuckles Neame.

But Neame admits it would have been good to have Stevens around for a few episodes in season four: “Exits like those give you real dramatic rocket fuel,” he says, “but we were hoping Dan would stay on the show. And when we couldn’t keep him in multiple seasons, we tried for extra episodes, but he didn’t want to do that.”

The show didn’t hit every high note: The much-touted appearance of Shirley MacLaine proved to be all too brief (though she’ll be back next season) and the odd financial insolvency of Downton, and deus ex machina “solution” of a sudden inheritance by Matthew, who was then oddly reluctant to use it to save Downton, felt strained. Bates left prison and wed Anna, but the prolonged separation arguably sapped some air from that romance.

Overall, however, “Downton” had all of the rocket fuel it could handle, and will now have to spend part of its next season dealing with the fallout of those foundation-rocking changes.

As for a possible Emmy win, Neame says they aren’t counting chickens, but it would certainly be a stamp of approval. “To be in the mainstream and considered by American audiences as their own, to be in that category as one of the top shows in what is probably the most competitive time in television history, is a really special feeling,” he says. “It would be amazing.”

More TV

  • Peppa Pig

    U.K. Competition Watchdog to Examine Hasbro's $4 Billion Deal for Entertainment One

    Britain’s competition watchdog will investigate Hasbro’s $4 billion takeover of Entertainment One. The Competition and Markets Authority said Thursday that it would examine whether the intended acquisition of eOne would result in a “substantial lessening of competition” under U.K. rules. The CMA was deeply involved in scrutinizing the sale of Sky, which was ultimately bought [...]

  • Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind.,

    MSNBC and Washington Post Air Strong, Substantial Democratic Debate (Column)

    The Democratic party primary debate in Atlanta ran long (by about 20 minutes) and had a crowded stage of 10 candidates — and yet, relatively speaking, flew by efficiently. After a passel of debates that had been wildly oversubscribed and caught fire more for personality conflict than policy difference, the MSNBC and Washington Post debate [...]

  • Subhash Chandra Chairman of the Zee

    Another 16% Slice of India’s Zee to be Sold by Essel

    The Essel Group is to sell a further 16.5% stake in Zee Entertainment Enterprise Limited, India’s largest private sector broadcast group. The debt-reduction move comes just months after Essel auctioned off an 11% tranche of ZEEL. “The Group seeks to sell up to 16.5% stake in ZEEL to financial investors, in order to repay loan [...]

  • Fuller House

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets Premiere Date for Final Season of Fuller House

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix announces the Fuller House’s final season premiere date, HGTV provides a Variety exclusive to the reboot of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and Freeform announces the premiere date for Josh Thomas’ new comedy “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.” DATES HGTV provided Variety with an exclusive trailer for the reboot of “Extreme Makeover: [...]

  • Tomiko Iwata

    Fox Promotes Creative-Services Head Tomiko Iwata

    Tomiko Iwata has been promoted to executive vice president, head of creative services at Fox Entertainment. She will be responsible for overseeing all of Fox’s creative services, including experiential marketing across divisions. In addition to overseeing her Los Angeles-based staff, she will lead a team based in New York. Her previous role was senior vice [...]

  • Frank Cicha

    Listen: Why Fox Television Stations Embraced Trial and Error in Daytime

    Frank Cicha, head of programming for Fox Television Stations, saw the future coming nearly a decade ago when Fox’s TV station group committed many millions to land syndication rights to “The Big Bang Theory” back in 2010. Even then, it was clear that big hits on the scale of “Big Bang” were going to be [...]

  • Sterling K. BrownVariety and Women in

    Sterling K. Brown to Narrate Disney Plus Documentary 'One Day at Disney' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sterling K. Brown is set to lend his voice to the upcoming Disney Plus feature documentary “One Day at Disney,” Variety has learned exclusively. “One Day at Disney” will highlight the people who work on some of Disney’s most beloved stories. The film will highlight 10 specific people and their role at Disney through the lens [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content