When Downton Abbey returns next month, the top-rated PBS drama of all time and U.S. television's most successful British import will cap its extraordinary run with a much buzzed about sixth and final season.
Adweek caught up with Downton Abbey executive producer Gareth Neame, who offers a few (cryptic) hints about what viewers can expect from the show's farewell season.
Adweek: How receptive were television executives when you first pitched the show?
Gareth Neame: A British producer once told me no one in Hollywood would be interested in the show when I was trying to finance it. I was told nobody in the United States will ever be interested in this idea.
Brilliant observation. Why do you think the show became such a huge hit?
Downton took the audience back to a world that perhaps they'd forget how much they enjoyed and did it with fast-paced storytelling and multiple narratives, multiple characters and a mixture of drama, romance and comedy. I think it also reminded people how much romantic love rather than sex is something audiences around the world have appreciated.
It certainly was a boon to PBS, wasn't it?
They had a die-hard core audience of loyal fans, and what Downton has done is grown that audience massively and even given them a mainstream audience. I hope they have another big success.
Downton took hold during a new golden age of television dramas. Where does it fit in terms of that legacy?
There are so many shows people really respect and admire like Mad Men and Homeland—two shows I revere. If I may make one claim for Downton, it is that it is a show people love. There may be other shows that are revered, but there's something about ours that has been a love and a joy for people—not just in the U.K. and the U.S. but in every country around the world.
Will there be a Downton movie?
Potentially there could be a movie. There won't be [another] television show, but you might see them in a movie.
How would you compare Downton's final season against all the others?
There's a roller coaster that you go on. It gets more and more rewarding as we get closer to the end, and I can say that the last few episodes [of the series] are among the best we've ever done.
So how will it all end?
I don't think it would be the right mood for a thunderbolt to destroy the Abbey in the last episode. The finale is a compassionate, wonderfully fulfilling episode. Not everyone gets the happy endings, but ultimately we are a positive show. There will be a lot of sadness when the camera pulls away from the castle for the last time.
Did you keep anything from the set as a memento?
That question is only ever asked in America, so I don't know what it is about that kleptomania. (Laughs) I didn't, because we own the set.
Gareth Neame is managing director of Carnival Films, the British studio behind the smash hit Downton Abbey, which airs in more than 200 countries. The show's final season premieres Jan. 3 on Masterpiece on PBS.