Can new UK series The Durrells fill Downton Abbey’s shoes?
When Downton Abbey aired its last scene earlier this year, there was a huge hole left in many TV viewer’s hearts.
But Channel 7 is confident they have found a way to fill it with new British series, The Durrells.
The UK drama is produced by ITV, the same network behind Downton Abbey. Not only that, but The Durrells film their interior scenes in the same Ealing Studios used by their predecessor.
Seven’s director of programming, Angus Ross, says that taking a risk on another UK series gripping Australians’ hearts was well worth it.
“English dramas have a chequered history on commercial networks,” he says.
“We took a punt many years ago on Downton Abbey which obviously changed that narrative. It was a massive show for a commercial network and it attracted a very broad range of demographics.
“The Durrells was the first UK drama that has really grabbed me since Downton Abbey. It’s a perfect piece of midweek escapism and looks so different to anything else on TV.”
The Durrells follows the antics of struggling widow Louisa (Keeley Hawes) who moves her unruly brood of children from Bournemouth to Corfu in the hopes of starting afresh. It is based on the series of books by youngest son and renowned naturalist Gerald Durrell (played by talented 10year old Milo Parker) which chronicled his family’s four years on the Greek island.
“It’s a classic fish out of water story,” says Ross. “It’s also very well written, I was laughing out loud when I first watched the show. It’s got these beautiful locations, it’s a very sumptuous looking show and the performances are terrific as well.”
Ross could almost be describing another mega-hit for the network, the AustralianKiwi co-production 800 Words.
It’s a comparison he hopes viewers will also make and a big reason behind where it has been placed in Seven’s schedule.
“We think the shows are very complementary,” he admits. “800 Words is on a Tuesday night which provides a very nice promo base for us to promote The Durrells, which is on Wednesday night.”
With the cast due to head back to Corfu for a second season next week, Seven have already said the series will return in 2017.
When the first season aired in the UK earlier this year, it garnered the biggest ratings of any new drama in 2016.
“It came out in spring time and I think the idea of seeing a British family in warm beautiful weather is always going to get British people excited because they love seeing sun,” laughs Josh O’Connor, who plays eldest brother Larry, of the show’s homegrown success.
“But the writer Simon Nye is amazing and has created a script where you see the family dynamic in such a vivid way.
“It’s this crazy family doing crazy things in a foreign country and how they get away with it — because they’re quite charming.”
“There’s nothing too gritty or dark in there that means kids can’t watch it,” adds Callum Woodhouse, who portrays gunmad middle child Leslie.
“It’s just really light and goofy at times which makes it so easy for everyone in the household to watch it.”
So can it recreate the success of Downton Abbey? Ross is hopeful but the cast are trying to play down the huge task at hand.
“They’re big shoes to fill,” says O’Connor.
“There are a lot of friends of mine who were in Downton Abbey who would argue we’re nowhere near as successful yet, which we’re not. But I certainly think we’ve had a brilliant start and we’re going off next week to do season two. As long as we keep putting out these lovely stories, then I think people will keep watching it.”
“It’s a classic fish out of water story. It’s also very well written”
ANGUS ROSS ON THE DURRELLS’ APPEAL
THE DURRELLS, CHANNEL 7, WEDNESDAY, 8.50PM
The Durrells is about a crazy family doing crazy things, which Seven is hoping will translate into a huge ratings hit.