The return of period drama Sanditon to PBS March 20 is an unusual triumph for Masterpiece and the fans of Jane Austen’s final and unfinished novel. That’s because the series was canceled before a single episode reached American shores.
“We knew that Season 1 had been canceled before it even aired on Masterpiece, but I knew it was going to be a huge hit for us, and it was,” said Susanne Simpson, series EP. “So our conversations about how to bring the series back actually started even a little bit before the series was a great success for us.”
Simpson and the show’s producers and actors discussed the upcoming second season Thursday, the third and final day of the PBS portion of the Television Critics Association press tour held via Zoom.
She said discussions to revive the show were spurred on by a passionate fan base but that ultimately the decision came down to putting together a financial package that would support additional production.
“We were very lucky that [producers] Red Planet worked extremely hard with us to find partners in ITV and BritBox UK and also with BBC Studios, which is the distributor worldwide,” she said. “But it took at least a year to put that financing package together. We were committed to try to find a solution.”
During that time, some of the actors moved on to other projects, though most returned to play characters they loved.
The new financial package provided for the filming of two seasons of the show, guaranteeing that fans will have yet another season to watch in 2023.
Though fans embraced the show, some also criticized it for containing more sex than Austen would have intended. Simpson acknowledged the complaints and said there will be less sex in coming seasons.
Said head writer Justin Young, “I think that speaks to a difference between the British audience and the American audience. I think in some ways Season 2 maybe feels more classically Jane Austen than Season 1. I hope the people that have those concerns won’t have them for the second season.”
Asked why period dramas are so popular with viewers, Young said they offered escapism and a chance to return to an earlier, simpler and more innocent time.
Added Sanditon EP Belinda Campbell, “It takes us out of our world because there are different costumes, different locations. It feels like a break from normal life. It’s also really important to us that [the stories] have contemporary resonance with the audience’s lives today.”
In other Masterpiece news, Simpson announced the commission of two more seasons of All Creatures Great and Small and the May 1 premiere of Ridley Road, a four-part series about a young Jewish woman who goes underground in London to fight fascism. In addition, Simpson announced a summer and fall filled with mysteries.
Summer programming includes the return of Endeavour, Grantchester and Guilt. The fall marks the return of Miss Scarlet and the Duke and Van Der Valk, as well as the premiere of Magpie Murders, based on an Anthony Horowitz novel and starring Lesley Manville.
Altogether, the slate of programs reflects a growing number of Masterpiece production partners in recent years. “The changes that have been happening in the industry really have brought us to a place where we have many more partners now — U.K. broadcasters. We have the BBC. We have ITV. Channel 5 is our partner on All Creatures Great and Small. For Magpie Murders we have BritBox UK. And the European Alliance was with us on Around the World in 80 Days,” Simpson said.