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Downton Abbey cast covers One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”

February 21, 2013

How will the cast of Downton Abbey pass the time between Sunday’s series 3 finale and the premiere of series 4 later this year? Besides filming series 4, some of the cast will turn to music. While Michelle Dockery (Mary Crawley) is an accomplished jazz singer who occasionally sings with Sadie and the Hotheads, a band formed by Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora), who knew that many in the cast have formed a One Direction cover band to pass the time this summer.

One Direction, comprised of Niall Horan, Zayne Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, made history when they became the first U.K. group to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2011 with ‘Up All Night’. ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ was the lead single from the album. If you’re already going through Downton Abbey withdrawal after Sunday’s season finale, this is the perfect pick-me up. Check out Mr. Carson!

The video was made for Richard Sandling’s Perfect Movie, a monthly live comedy show at The Leicester Square Theatre, and featured on his website. Great editing and great mash-up.

Julian Fellowes explains the series 3 Downton Abbey roller coaster

February 20, 2013

Still reeling over Sunday’s series 3 finale of Downton Abbey and have the word WHY on the tip of your tongue? Thanks to Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times who sat down recently with series creator/writer, Julian Fellowes, all of your questions will be answered. You may not like the answers, but you’ll have answers nonetheless and, hopefully, a bit more understanding as to the reasoning behind the series 3 conclusion and enough to tide you over until this Fall in the UK on ITV1 and January 5, 2014 in the U.S. on PBS when series 4 premieres.

***If you haven’t seen the series 3 finale, as this interviews reveals some early storylines of series 4, do not read until you have seen all of series 3. There are more spoilers than the law allows below.***

From the New York Times interview of Julian Fellowes by Dave Itzkoff

These have been dark days for the Crawleys and their household staff at Downton Abbey. After the popular period drama returned this year with the arrival of Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson (played by Shirley MacLaine) and her outspoken ways, the family lost Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), who died after giving birth, and confronted deep prejudices when they learned Thomas (Rob James-Collier) was gay.

Then, in the closing moments of Sunday’s season finale, broadcast in Britain at Christmastime, after Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) celebrated the birth of their first child, Matthew was killed in a car accident.

These developments are all the handiwork of Julian Fellowes, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter who created and writes Downton Abbey. But some were twists that he chose for his characters, and others were made necessary by circumstances beyond his control. In these edited excerpts, Mr. Fellowes spoke by phone recently from his home in London about a season of comings and goings at Downton, and how he is thinking about his own exit from the show.

NYT: Was it your decision to dispense with Sybil and Matthew in the same season?

Julian Fellowes: No. You see, in America, it’s quite standard for an actor to sign, at the beginning of a series, for five or seven years. The maximum any British agent will allow you to have over an actor is three years. And Jessica and Dan wanted to go. The show had been very, very successful, tremendously so, and they were being offered great opportunities. Don’t think I’m saying it critically – I don’t blame them at all. I can remember when I was a young actor, and I just had this feeling it was time to go to London. I was doing repertory theater in the country, and I resigned halfway through the season. Of course, all my friends and my parents thought I was completely mad. I went up to London and I got a job in a West End show with Hayley Mills. I reminded myself of that when Jessica and Dan said they wanted to go. I thought, “Well, you can’t be that snippy because on a scaled-down version, that’s exactly what you did.”

NYT: Did you try to persuade these actors to stay on?

Julian Fellowes: We wanted them to stay and said, “Would you just do two or three episodes? And then you’re living in America or in Dublin.” But they both felt they wanted to make a clean break. When an actor playing a servant wants to leave, there isn’t really a problem – [that character gets] another job. With members of the family, once they’re not prepared to come back for any episodes at all, then it means death. Because how believable would it be that Matthew never wanted to see the baby, never wanted to see his wife? And was never seen again at the estate that he was the heir to? So we didn’t have any option, really. I was as sorry as everyone else.

NYT: Once you’d made your peace with their departures, how did you decide to handle them narratively?

Julian Fellowes: With Jessica, it seemed right to give her a whole episode that was about her death. With Dan, I had hoped that we would have one episode of this fourth season that I’m writing now, so we could have ended the Christmas episode on a happy note – the baby, everything lovely. And then kill him in the first episode of the next series. But he didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want his death to dominate the Christmas special, so that’s why we killed him at the very, very end. In a way I think it works quite well because we begin Series 4 six months later. We don’t have to do funerals and all that stuff. That’s all in the past by then.

NYT: Another story line from this season dealt with the household learning that the servant Thomas is gay. Had you decided that about him from the time you created the character?

Julian Fellowes: He was always going to be gay. I don’t know about in America, but here, there are so many people under 40 who were hardly aware of the fact that it was actually illegal until the 1960s. Perfectly normal men and women were risking prison by making a pass at someone. Their whole life was lived in fear, and ruin and humiliation and career after career would be smacked down. I think it’s useful to remind people that many things that they take for granted, are, in terms of our history, comparatively new. But I also felt it was believable that someone living under that pressure would be quite snippy and ungenerous and untrusting. But once you understood what he was up against, you’d forgive quite a lot of that. I like to write characters where you change your mind, without them becoming different people.

NYT: The reactions from the others in the house, particularly those who disapprove so vehemently, make you see them in a new light, too.

Julian Fellowes: Well, I think it’s a mistake to give people modern attitudes if you want them to remain sympathetic, because I think the audience picks up on that. If Carson had said, “Oh, yes, I think it’s absolutely fine,” that’s a 2013 response. My parents didn’t have any prejudice about this at all, actually. In fact, my brother’s godfather was gay, quite publicly, which in the 50s was pretty wild. This was a good friend of my father’s. He was liberal. It didn’t bother him if people were homosexual. But we can forget how we were ringed in with these prejudices until really quite recently.

NYT: This season, in particular, it felt like American viewers were much more aware that “Downton” was showing first in Britain, and were having plot details spoiled months in advance. You may not be able to control this, but would you like the series be shown simultaneously in both regions?

Julian Fellowes: Well, I would love them to be simultaneous. And my own feeling is that the thinking behind different screenings belongs to a different era. The Internet has shrunk the world. We’re the two English-speaking countries that enjoy each other’s entertainment, it seems to me, as much as any linked countries in the world. I would vastly prefer that we all saw it together. The world is much more global. And so I look forward to the day when it changes, as I’m sure it will.

NYT: You’re also writing a new period drama for NBC called “The Gilded Age.”

Julian Fellowes: I’m not yet. I’m going to, when “Downton” finishes. But there are many hurdles that have to be cleared. You have to write the pilot, they have to decide they’re going to make it, they have to decide whether they want to pick it up. So it’s a line of ditches that lies between me and the series. But if it goes, and if I’m doing a series at NBC, I would not be able to write all of “Downton” and all of that series at the same time. I would hope that by the time all the hurdles have been cleared, the timing makes it so I can then concentrate on the new series. And if “Downton” goes on – of course that’s not my decision – then it would be with other writers. Perhaps with me supervising, but with other writers.

NYT: Could you imagine a scenario where “Downton” continues without you?

Julian Fellowes: I think it would be funny. But in life, you no sooner say “Oh, I’d never do such and such” than you find yourself strapped into a chair, doing it. There’s no point, really, in making pronouncements of absolutes. The only thing is, I know I would not be able to write 11 hours of “Downton” and 10 hours of “The Gilded Age,” or whatever it is, side by side.

NYT: Wouldn’t you prefer to end the series on your own terms?

Julian Fellowes: I’d prefer to do everything on my terms. The business of life is learning that you can’t lay down the terms. My own belief is that these things have a life. And one of the tricks is to recognize when it’s time to come to an end. But we haven’t made a decision when that will be. Some things go on for 20 years, don’t they, but I just don’t see “Downton” being one of them.

NYT: Can you say yet what the themes of this new season will be?

Julian Fellowes: I’m not giving anything away by saying that one of the main themes is the rebuilding of Mary, that Mary has to rebuild her life in a society which is changing. We would see women’s roles in the ’20s as being very much behind women today. But it was a big advance on what it had been 30 years before. And that’s all explored in the show.

Post Downton Abbey, it’s time to get the Sherlock 3 band back together don’t you think?

February 19, 2013

A panoramic view of the set of 221B Baker Street, currently under construction, courtesy of the show’s production designer Arwel Wyn Jones is enough to make me forget that it’s been a little over a year since Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have been a part of our collective mind palaces. This is like behind-the-scenes production gold for those that have been (im)-patiently waiting since last year for the next installment of Sherlock.

As we speak, the set team is busy preparing Sherlock and John’s flat for stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as the next series in this unbelievably brilliant BBC/PBS series is set to being filming next month with three new 90-minute episodes. And, as the band is getting back together, co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have been hard at work under significant pressure to top what many already consider to be the best telly on telly.

Gatiss talked to Radio Times recently about Sherlock’s series three return following his death-defying plunge at the end of the last season off the rooftop of St Barts Hospital. In ‘The Empty House’, the original story in which the detective comes back from the dead, he reveals himself to his friend Dr Watson after being disguised as a stooped, elderly book seller, but Gatiss suggested Sherlock’s disguise might be somewhat more subtle.

We made a decision right from the get-go that he would not do disguise in the traditional sense,” said Gatiss. “He actually has a line in [series one finale] ‘The Great Game’ which is ‘The art of disguise is knowing how to hide in plain sight’ and that was because, right from the start, I thought modern day Sherlock Holmes would not put putty noses on, he would basically be standing behind you now and you wouldn’t know he was there.”

Now that we’re ever so close to getting the entire band back together, time to remember those all important three words:

Rat; Wedding; Bow

Now, go talk amongst yourselves and determine what these might mean and try not to think about what happened Sunday night at the conclusion of series 3 of Downton Abbey. Happy thoughts…happy thoughts.

R.I.P. Richard Briers, a.k.a. Tom Good in The Good Life

February 18, 2013

Sadly, another longtime ‘friend’ to public broadcasting in the States whom most of us feel like we’ve spent every weekend with over the past 30+ years has died. Richard Briers, a.k.a. Tom Good from Good Neighbors, Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles and Hector MacDonald in Monarch of the Glen passed away Sunday evening at the age of 79. A number of us had the great good fortune of spending time with Richard over the years during our PBS productions about British comedy, Funny Ladies of British Comedy, Funny Blokes of British Comedy and, most recently, From Script to Screen: Behind the Britcom. Richard Briers was always the consummate professional and an absolutely genuine delight to sit and talk with at great length about comedy, both the history of and where it’s going, and life in general.

As with so many British actors that we are familiar with from our favorite situation comedies, Briers was an accomplished stage actor who appeared in numerous Shakespeare plays after joining Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987. But most of us knew him for his role as Tom Good in The Good Life (retitled Good Neighbors when broadcast in the U.S.). Here, Briers shares some insight into the casting of The Good Life and how important it was to the success of the series to have the quality of cast they had as part of our tribute to the writers of British comedy program.

In 2005, as part of our Funny Blokes of British Comedy, host Lenny Henry ‘introduced’ to Tom Good. We also heard from Good Life co-stars Penelope Keith and Felicity Kendal who shared their thoughts on working with Richard Briers followed by some brilliant insights from Richard about comedy, his approach to comedy acting, his thoughts on Tom Good and the series was probably more applicable to today times than when it originally premiered in 1975.

R.I.P. Richard Briers. Thanks for all the laughs over the past 30+ years and for the endless laughs you no doubt will provide us with in the years to come. We will all miss you.

As Downton Abbey comes to a close for this year, Downton Sixbey lives on!

February 18, 2013

Leave it to the greatness of Jimmy Fallon to turn to humor when the entire U.S. is still reeling from Sunday nights mind-numbing series 3 finale of Downton Abbey. While a collective ‘WHY’ was heard from Los Angeles to New York and all points in-between last night, the residents of Downton Sixbey are dealing with their own issues including the realization of that hard times are ahead due to the mis-management of Downton and then hearing the news that Questlove is back as the heir to Downton Abbey.

Downton Sixbey episode 3


In the next installment of Downton Sixbey, as everyone prepares for a wedding, Higgins is forced to dispel rumors that are running rampant through Downton Sixbey and reveal his complicated past to the family. While Higgens is brilliant, Brooke Shields as Lady Nora is priceless. Hopefully, with these 14+ minutes of greatness from Jimmy Fallon, you have forgotten for at least a few moments last nights ending to series 3 of Downton Abbey. Watch as often as you see fit. Unfortunately, it’s a long time until January 5, 2014 and the premiere of series 4 on PBS.

Downton Sixbey episode 4

Downton Abbey rumor mill heats up as series 3 finale airs tonight on PBS!

February 17, 2013

As the Crawley family and those below the stairs that live to serve them bring series 3 to a close on tonight’s 2-hour finale of Downton Abbey on PBS’ Masterpiece series, rumors are already flying around the Internets as the cast begins filming this month on series 4 which is tentatively set for a Fall premiere on ITV1 and a 5 January, 2014 premiere on PBS.

More Shirley MacLaine and maybe Dame Judi Dench and/or Billy Connolly?

So far, creator/writer Julian Fellowes has hinted that he’d love to see the return of Shirley MacLaine as Lady Grantham’s mother, Martha Levinson, for another head-to-head matching of wits with the Dowager Countess. Early on, Dame Judi Dench admitted she was hooked on the series that stars friend and fellow Dame, Maggie Smith. There’s now even a Facebook campaign to try and convince producers to give her a guest role at Downton for series 4. Even Scottish comedian Billy Connolly has said he would be open to the idea of working on the show after having worked with Dame Maggie Smith in “Quartet”. “I’d love to work with her again, I’m not sure how I’d fit into the Downton world, it’s maybe not quite right but it would be a laugh I guess“, Connolly said.

Miranda heartthrob moving to Downton?

Now comes the most recent and intriguing product of the rumor mill. Tom Ellis, fresh off his 3 series role as Miranda’s dream hunk, Gary on Miranda, has auditioned and on the short list for a recurring role in series 4. Unfortunately, to even think about reporting on the role that Downton producers have in mind for him would require spilling some series spoilers for tonight’s series 3 finale so if you want to know, you’re going to have to search on your own. If you have to know quickly after you’ve seen tonight’s episode, you can click here to find out. Seriously, however, as great at this would be, I can only find this particular rumor from one source so it’s going to need just a bit more concrete substantiation before we should consider this to be a real possibility.

Whatever becomes fact or remains a rumor, I’m already getting the countdown calendar ready with a big red circle around Sunday, January 5, 2014 for the return of Downton Abbey 4 on PBS. Those lucky enough to live east of the Atlantic only have to wait until September. In the meantime, enjoy tonights series 3 finale and let us know what you think.

A 60 Minutes sit down with the Dowager Countess

February 16, 2013

Thankfully, Downton Abbey isn’t a Nielsen household. Dame Maggie Smith reveals on Sundays CBS’ 60 Minutes program that she has never seen any of the runaway ITV/PBS hit, Downton Abbey. The 78-year-old actress, who plays the Dowager Countess, says that she’s avoided watching the show thus far because she wouldn’t be able to avoid scrutinizing her performance and thinking about things she would like to have done differently.

Prior to Sundays series 3 finale, 60 Minutes host Steve Kroft asked whether she was proud of the program. Dame Maggie hesitated slightly before replying: “I was just pausing because I’ve never actually seen it. I don’t sit down and watch it. No, I haven’t watched it. I always see things that I would like to do differently, and think ‘why in the name of God did I do that?’.” Personally, her having won numerous awards for her Dowager Countess brilliance in the series, including a Golden Globe, a Primetime Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild Award makes me think there wouldn’t be anything that she needs to do differently at this point.

Smith then added that she’s a perfectionist and attributes this to her age. “You’re trying to say that I am what everybody says … I’m scary and I understand that totally.” ‘Old people are scary and I have to face it, I am old and I am scary and I am very sorry about it but I don’t know what you do.

For my money, just keep on being who you are and knowing that everyone is expecting the same Dowager Countessness for series 4 later this year.

Happy 25th Anniversary – Red Dwarf!

February 15, 2013

15 February is definitely a day to celebrate if you love British telly. Twenty-five years ago on that fateful day in 1988, the creation from the mind palace of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor which introduced the world to the remaining on-board inhabitants of a mining spaceship owned and operated by the Jupiter Mining Corporation, became a reality with the premiere broadcast of Red Dwarf. The concept for the show was originally developed from the sketch-series Dave Hollins: Space Cadet which was part of the BBC Radio 4 show Son of Cliché which was also written by Grant and Naylor. 25 years and 61 episodes later, Red Dwarf is an icon of British situation comedy history.

In 2008, The BBC opted to ‘pursue other projects’ and ‘officially’ rejected the possibility the series returning for a ninth series, some 9 years following the end of RDVIII in 1999. It was not to end, however, as Pitch, an international mobile entertainment company, working with series producers, created a Christmas ‘mobisode’ designed solely for users of the mobile medium. Months later, Dave – the home of witty banter – brought the series back for an Easter 2009 premiere of Red Dwarf: Back to Earth followed in 2012 by Red Dwarf X, recorded in front of a studio audience and the first full series since 1999.

Red Dwarf Christmas ‘mobisode’

Back in December 2000, I found myself at Shepperton Studios sitting nervously across the table from an icon in his own right, Mr. Flibble, the hologramatical hand puppet penguin who appeared in only one episode of Red Dwarf, “Quarantine”. That one episode performance was so strong that Mr. Flibble became the official interviewer on the Red Dwarf official website. Mr. Flibble was quite interested in Red Dwarf in the States, I think partly due to the fact that he was trying to calculate his residuals due for any past, present or future North American transmission.

Thankfully, Mr. Flibble was uncharacteristically kind that cold December day at Shepperton. It was only towards the end of the interview did I experience the full effect of his hex-vision powers as he became quite cross when our time was up. His final question cemented a bond between the two of us that would last a lifetime as he wanted to know my top-ten British pub names. Personally, I think he had been to most of them from the smile on his face as I began to list them. My full interview with Mr. Flibble is archived along with a number of far more amazing interviews on the series website.

So…happy 25th Red Dwarf. You don’t look a day over 21.

More Case Histories in 2013. Life is good.

February 14, 2013

Without question, the recent talk-of-the-nation gems from PBS’ Masterpiece series have been Downton Abbey and Sherlock. One short 3-part series that flew under the Downton/Sherlock radar, however, has gained quite a following since its premiere back in 2011. Case Histories, adapted from the brilliant mind palace of Kate Atkinson, features Jackson Brodie, a private investigator who attempts to unravel disparate ‘case histories’ in modern-day Edinburgh.

Filmed on location in Edinburgh, series two has just completed filming and will transmit on BBC One in 2013 with, hopefully, a PBS Masterpiece broadcast in the States not long after. Fans of the original series will remember the intriguing soundtrack that accompanied the series. Atkinson has always felt that Brodie’s complex and compulsive nature was tailor-made for a haunting playlist of mournful American country singers that ran throughout both her books and the series.

On reprising his role as Brodie, Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter & The Chamber Of Secrets, The Patriot) said: “I can’t wait to put on the crumpled, witty, self-destructive, noble and naughty skin of Jackson Brodie again and dive into the unique flavor of Kate Atkinson’s worlds. Nobody connects the past with the present and the absurd with the heart-wrenching like she does and we all feel excited and lucky to bring another bunch of stories of damage and delight to the screen.” Brodie, a former soldier and policeman, mixes a tough-guy exterior with a deeply empathetic heart. He’s unable to resist coming to the rescue and is a magnet for the bereaved, the lost and the dysfunctional.

The first episode of series two is written by Peter Harness (Wallander) and adapted from Atkinson’s novel ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’. Victoria Wood, the celebrated stand-up comic and writer, joins the returning cast members, Amanda Abbington (Being Human), Millie Innes (Single Father) and Zawe Ashton (Misfits) for the first episode of series two alongside Isaac. Asked about her upcoming role in Case Histories, Wood said: “…I am a huge fan of Kate Atkinson and couldn’t resist the chance to be involved in Case Histories“.

For those needing a bit of a Case Histories refresher or if you’re just being introduced to Jackson Brodie, here’s the trailer to series one so you know what you’re in for when series two rolls around in the coming months. Enjoy….and then go get the soundtrack.

Call the Midwife to deliver 3rd series in 2013; Clock stops on The Hour after 2nd series

February 13, 2013

Controller of BBC Drama, Ben Stephenson said it all earlier this week at a meeting to announce a range of new drama commissions for 2013-2014: “Drama and the BBC are inseparable – it is written through the BBC like a stick of rock. No other broadcaster in the world has drama so firmly in its DNA. Ultimately I can boil this down to one thing – I want to make the BBC the hallmark of quality drama and the automatic home for the best talent in the world”.

Call the Midwife commissioned for 2013 Christmas special and 3rd series in 2014

Call the Midwife was the highest rated drama on the BBC in over a decade when it premiered in 2012. The second to none (ok, except maybe Downton Abbey) series based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth is currently in the middle of its second series in the UK, transmitting to both critical acclaim and continued strong audience numbers. The second series will premiere in the States on Sunday, March 31 on PBS stations nationwide. For series 3, it’s 1959 and the country is on the eve of the ‘swinging Sixties’. The winds of change are sweeping through the country and the residents of Nonnatus House face some momentous changes of their own. The new series will be 8-parts and will, again, be written by Heidi Thomas.

The Hour comes to an end after two series

Unfortunately, ‘…making the BBC the hallmark of quality drama‘ does not include the a 3rd seris of The Hour. The BBC pulled the plug on the one-hour drama about a 1950s BBC newsmagazine show. “We loved the show but have to make hard choices to bring new shows through,” the BBC said in a statement. Even though the show was nominated for an Emmy and three Golden Globes last year, including Best Miniseries or Made For TV Movie, the audience figures for the most recent series fell of dramatically in the UK when compared to series one. Personally, I’m really sorry to see this one go. Whether it ultimately suffered under the inevitable comparison to Mad Men or not we’ll never know, but it was well-written, well-acted and beautifully shot. Based on the ending of series two, it’s obvious that there was never a notion that this would not see a third series. Sadly, it won’t and viewers will be left hanging forever.