Fans of the British drama Downton Abbey, forced by Masterpiece-style seasons that last only a mere seven or so episodes to wait eons for their fix of early-twentieth-century life in an English country manor, got some good news yesterday. NBC announced in a press release that they signed a deal with Downton‘s creator Julian Fellowes to write and produce a show called The Gilded Age, “an epic tale of the princes of the American Renaissance, and the vast fortunes they made—and spent—in late nineteenth-century New York.”
If the show ends up going to air, its home on a U.S. network could mean a full American television season’s worth of life in the 1800s. Twenty-two episodes in one year would be about as much content as has been produced in three whole seasons of Downton Abbey. (Downton episodes are a full public-television hour long but an hour-long network drama is only about 40 minutes plus commercials.)
But costume-drama-hungry fans will not be satiated with only two major historical periods!
Why stop at England in the 1910s and New York in the 1880s? Luckily, there have been plenty of epochs full of elegant costumes, loads of money and intricate social structures to intrigue modern audiences. Let us consider:
San Francisco in the 1850s. The time of the California gold rush serves up plenty of money drama, historical events, hoop skirts and top hats, and the clash of rich and poor.
Vienna around the turn of the 19th century. A high point in the history of classical music, the time of Mozart, Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven offers opportunity for lots of ballroom scenes—complete with powdered wigs.
Massachusetts in the 1670s. Sure, the costumes of the colonial period may be a bit more drab than Downton fans are used to, but the life-and-death stakes are pretty hard to beat.
India in the 1870s. Just like Downton, sort of, but hotter and with even more moral squishiness around the upstairs-downstairs relationships, the British Raj is a natural subject for the Julian Fellowes touch.
Beijing at the turn of the 17th century. The Ming dynasty was about way more than just vases. Court hierarchies were complicated enough to sustain at least a few seasons of good television.
Which other world-historical periods would you watch a Julian Fellowes show about?