To the Manor Born

Gareth Neame follows his destiny to the worldwide smash Downton Abbey

“Sorry, I’m pausing one moment,” Gareth Neame says with a slight laugh. “I’ve literally never done this, but I’m getting last night’s ratings for Downton while I’m on the phone here.”

Downton Abbey, the award-winning series that Neame developed and executive-produces under Carnival Films for ITV and PBS, was up against the second season premiere of Homeland, the show that just beat Downton for the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. A quiet moment passes as the producer and PGA member digests the news: not only did Downton keep its audience, but it won the night, even beating its lead-in, The X Factor, with a 36.8% share.

It’s rare enough to exceed expectations of a production. To exceed expectations of an entire genre is something else entirely. Yet such success has become characteristic of Downton Abbey, the purposefully modern production of a classically English genre that became a breakout hit for Neame, the ITV network and British television as a whole.

The first season won six Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries, took home the PGA’s David L. Wolper Award for Long-Form Television (breaking HBO’s ten-year lock on that honor), and won or was nominated for an impressively varied selection of awards from Europe to China. Its second season earned Downton a place in the Outstanding Drama Series category and a total of 16 Emmy nominations in what is being widely hailed as a golden period of dramatic television.

“As a British show, it’s even more of an achievement,” Neame adds. “Because to have broken through the way it has in the US — and to have broken through by being on pubic television, whicih is not anywhere anyone would have expected to find a show like this — makes it all the more remarkable.”

This profile article on television producer Gareth Neame was written for Produced By, the official magazine of the Producers Guild of America, to document Neame’s success as executive producer of the lauded series Downton Abbey. Interviewees for the piece included Neame, as well as writer and co-creator Julian Fellowes.