While watching the Brits swan about in period costume on ITV's post-Edwardian sensation Downton Abbey has been fun for us Yanks, it's high time we had our own period soap, because things that are ours are way better than things borrowed from England. So it's good news indeed that Downton mastermind Julian Fellowes has just signed a deal with NBC to create The Gilded Age, a drama about 1880s New York City. At long last, our very own look at opulent wealth and stifled internal longings!
As it happens, we almost had just such a drama this year, as Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes had a pilot in the works at ABC called Gilded Lilys, about the 1895 opening of New York's first luxury hotel. But that show, which featured Blythe Danner and Friday Night Lights' Matt Lauria, wasn't ordered to series, which is probably a good thing. Better to have the marvelously adept Mr. Fellowes create the prim and pressed drama than ol' steam-machine operator Shonda Rhimes. She's good at zesty modern workplace romance, but nothing in her writing suggests an ear for another era.
And what an era! The Gilded Age was the time of Mellons and Carnegies and Vanderbilts and Rockefellers — American royalty of such legendary wealth that their summer homes are now Newport concert halls and tourist curiosities. We don't call them castles, but one visit to The Breakers, or to the Frick Museum at 70th and Central Park, and it's plainly clear that that's just what they were. We'd imagine that this show will at least to some degree be about that kind of a wealthy family, because how could you ignore all that fabulous excess. In the spirit of Downton, there will probably be some poor folks, too.
All told, we're pretty excited about this idea, though one thing does concern us a bit: NBC. Why oh why couldn't this be going to HBO or, hell, even PBS? Ambitious big-four network dramas like this rarely work. ABC couldn't even pull off 666 Park Avenue and that was set in the present. It's possible that NBC could shock and surprise us by not mucking this thing up, but their track record is spottier than a teenage footman. No, this NBC association doesn't guarantee good things, but hopefully Fellowes' piquant and decadent wit can overcome the curse of the Peacock. Sally forth with this Gilded Age, everyone. And make it good, won't you. While we wait for its auspicious debut, we'll continue staring out to sea, searching the horizon for the arrival of Downton Abbey's third season on our American shores.