In mid-March 2020, the golden age He was just five days away from his first day of shooting when production was halted due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic. As the show was stopped before it really started, writer-creator Julian Fellowes thought the virus “could be the death knell” for the project.
COVID didn’t end up killing the show, but it did require a pause. Another pause, like the golden age it was first announced in 2012 and has been coming together in stops and starts ever since. It’s been a 10-year journey to finally make the period drama that centers on post-war friction between the Upper East Side’s old-money establishment and a family of social climbers with newfound railroad wealth (as well as the staff who works for them). That period has seen the golden age he switches networks, an important cast member leaves, and new key collaborators join, including a writer to work with Fellowes. Plus, COVID happened, throwing the sprawling apparatus of period drama production into a tailspin. “It was one of those things: surviving and adapting,” says executive producer David Crockett. “We’re moving on,” adds Fellowes. “I’m very glad we did and satisfied with what we did.”
Even before I had the idea the golden age, Fellowes: The writer behind the 2001 drama Upstairs-downstairs directed by Robert Altman gosford park and creator of the Yorkshire estate complex downton abbey, which aired in the United States on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic, was an avid reader of books about the late 19th century period of great wealth disparity and tumult as American industry boomed. He was struck by stories of tycoons “born to fortunes after the Civil War who descended on New York to build their palaces” and finally thought that if he was enjoying these stories so much, others might as well. (He has previously cited the work of Edith Wharton and Henry James as additional inspiration; writer and co-executive producer Sonja Warfield, who worked with Fellowes on the scripts, also says she’s a big Wharton fan.)
Fellowes initially wrote a pilot about the Vanderbilts, whose vast shipping and rail fortunes led to the creation of Vanderbilt University and the building of opulent mansions like The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, which were never built. That earlier script convinced Fellowes that writing about real historical figures restricted his ability to tell an engaging story. “My next idea to write a Gilded Age series that wasn’t a direct narrative of the Vanderbilts,” but instead was populated with fictional characters, with some historical figures thrown in, “was there almost immediately in my head,” he said. He says. Fellowes pitched the idea to then-NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt in 2012, and that same year NBC announced the series was in development, at a time when downton abbey it had already proven to be a ratings success in the US.
Actress Christine Baranski, who plays wealthy socialite Agnes Van Rhijn in the HBO series and who says she loves period pieces, recalls hearing some rumors about an American version of downton abbey. “I just remember saying to my representation, ‘Oh my God, I’d do anything to be in it.’ Then I didn’t hear anything about it, of course, for years.”
NBC’s announcement, says Fellowes, turned out to be premature. At the time “city center it was filming like a big kind of automaton and I had to keep feeding it” as the creator of the series and, in most cases, the sole writer. downton abbey, originally conceived as a miniseries, ran for six seasons. Executive producer Gareth Neame, who worked with Fellowes on the golden age Y downton Abbey, remembers receiving the first draft of the pilot episode of the first in 2016, at a time when the pair were also developing their first downton abbey feature film, which was finally released in 2019. NBC finally gave the golden age a series order in 2018, with an expected issue date a year later.
Then a sudden announcement in the spring of 2019: the golden age was moving to HBO. Reports of why the series left NBC at the time focused in part on the scale of the project (in a statement, then-NBC Entertainment co-chairmen Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks cited the show’s “ambition and scope.” and they said they finally concluded that “HBO is the perfect network for this epic story.”) Neame agrees now: “I think it would have been quite a struggle to get the show to a number that would have made sense on network television.” He adds that “this show has really cost a lot of money” and that HBO was one of the few places with the resources to make it as written. (An HBO representative said he couldn’t comment on the show’s budget.) Greenblatt, whom Fellowes described as a champion of the series in the episode of THR‘s TV’s top five podcast launched on Friday, ended up bringing the golden age to HBO when he left NBC to become president of WarnerMedia Entertainment in 2019.
After the show moved to HBO, American writer Warfield (Will & Grace, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power) joined Fellowes in 2020 to “really authenticate the world” and bring an American perspective, he says. Rutgers University history professor Erica Armstrong Dunbar consulted on period details and co-executive produced the series, while executive producer Crockett went to work on locations, sets, and cast. Production was “ready to go” when it was shut down due to COVID in March 2020, says Neame. Although it started up again in September of that year, COVID eventually extended the production schedule from six months to eight months and pushed back the planned release date for the series (again) by a year. The series also lost one of its main actors: Amanda Peet was initially cast as new-money socialite Mrs. Bertha Russell, a character who positions herself in opposition to Baranski’s snobbish Van Rhijn and her sister Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon). ), but she dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, and Carrie Coon took over the role.
In hindsight, executive producers Crockett and Neame say they are grateful HBO was willing to film a large portion of the show in New York (part of the series was also filmed in Rhode Island), which Neame says would not have happened. “if you were really looking at a budget,” and that the production drew heavily on local Broadway talent, in part because it made the COVID-era production a bit more manageable. The series was crossover (several episodes were filmed at same time) instead of being shot in episodic blocks, “so having the actors there and available to us every day was very important,” says Neame, noting that it was more difficult for the actors to travel for work at first. “Because of COVID, all these great award-winning actors were available and more than happy to come to work,” adds Baranski.
Production began months before all Americans were eligible for the shots, and “we had a label that rivaled Versailles,” Fellowes says of the set’s health and safety precautions. Production was shut down for 48 hours at one point due to what multiple people on the series are calling false-positive COVID results, and Crockett says there were a few individual cases of workers contracting the virus during filming, though Fellowes says an actor never got sick. “We had to deal with some hassles and everything, but we were able to do the show, really, while COVID was still raging. We have 10 episodes,” says Baranski. Nixon adds: “It was miraculous, really.”
When asked if the show’s stories have changed with the times since he first pitched Greenblatt his idea of The Golden age, Fellowes says, “They evolve, you know,” adding that he usually edits to give particular characters more screen time or to bring them to a certain point more effectively. When Warfield came on board as a writer, she and Fellowes began writing alternate scripts, which the other then rewrote, with Fellowes doing final revision. Fellowes believes the show’s take on race (taking place shortly after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment) and sexuality should resonate with today’s audiences. A central story follows black writer Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), who comes from an upper-class Brooklyn family and develops a complicated friendship with Van Rhijn and Brook’s white niece, Marian (Louisa Jacobson); another key male character secretly lives with a male partner, but pursues a higher lifestyle by courting a young woman with a fortune.
And like the old Fellowes projects downton abbey Y gosford park – and its iconic television precedent from the 1970s Bottom up – the golden age it focuses as much on the one percent of the Upper East Side as it does on its staff. The show’s writers believe the period’s stark disparities will resonate with viewers after decades of growing economic inequality. Today, there’s “a kind of dynamic with all of our billionaires racing each other to the moon that’s quite reminiscent of the Gilded Age,” says Fellowes. Warfield adds: “We still have huge income inequality in this country. So it’s still relevant, it’s still the same, even if it’s from 1882.”
the golden age premiered January 24 on HBO.