NBC turned down Downton Abbey, which is produced by NBCUniversal’s Carnival Films in London, “believing that American audiences wouldn’t have the appetite for a very British historical drama set in a country manor in Edwardian England,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.
An NBC official told the paper that the decision was made under previous NBC leadership, and it’s pleased that sister company NBCUniversal found success with the show, which was picked up by Masterpiece on PBS. But that exec acknowledged that even the current NBC brass could have overlooked Downton’s potential. “The official said it was hard to imagine any network — including PBS — thinking Downton would become a hit,” the paper said.
Gareth Neame, Downton executive producer, told the paper although the series is a historical drama, it’s told in a modern style. In fact, one model for the program was The West Wing, he said.
As for PBS, Neame added, “they have always been there for British producers. They don’t have the biggest checkbook, but they are consistent.”