'The Gilded Age,' From 'Downton Abbey' Creator, Moves From NBC to HBO

In a move that immediately brings 'Smash' to mind, the Julian Fellowes drama follows former NBC Entertainment president Bob Greenblatt — who developed it — to WarnerMedia.
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Julian Fellowes

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes' long-gestating period drama The Gilded Age has a new home.

The project, originally put into development at NBC back in 2012 and picked up to series at the broadcast network in January 2018, is moving to HBO. The 10-episode series follows former NBC Entertainment president Bob Greenblatt — who developed the project — to WarnerMedia, where he now oversees WarnerMedia-owned cable networks including HBO. 

The Gilded Age's move is reminiscent of when Greenblatt left his role atop premium cable network Showtime for NBC and brought with him the script for what would become the network's Broadway drama Smash. That script was picked up and developed by Greenblatt for Showtime and wound up being ordered to series and airing for two seasons on the broadcast network.

"Given the opulent scope and scale of this richly textured character drama, HBO is the perfect home for The Gilded Age,” HBO president Casey Bloys said Thursday in a statement announcing the news. "We’re all huge fans of Julian and I know I speak for Bob Greenblatt — who was involved in the development of this series while at Universal Television — when I say we’re thrilled to bring his undeniable genius to our viewers."

The move arrives as HBO is under a larger mandate from WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey to increase originals ahead of its new corporate parent's plans to roll out its own streaming platform (which will also be overseen by Greenblatt). Sources say the Gilded Age script came in at NBC and execs at the network and producers Universal Television immediately identified that it was better suited for a streamer or premium cable network. A multiple-outlet bidding war ensued.

"As with all of our studio projects, our goal is to find them the home that is the best fit for the series," said NBC Entertainment co-chairmen Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks, who both replaced Greenblatt at the network. "We love the ambition and scope of The Gilded Age, and after a highly competitive bidding process, ultimately came to the conclusion that HBO is the perfect network for this epic story. We can’t wait to partner with them to bring Julian’s majestic drama to audiences all over the globe."

Here's HBO's revised series description: "The American Gilded Age in 1885 was a period of immense economic change, of huge fortunes made and lost, and the rise of disparity between old money and new money, which is being reflected again today. Against this backdrop comes young Marian Brook, the orphaned daughter of a Southern general, who moves into the home of her rigidly conventional aunts in New York City. Accompanied by the mysterious Peggy Scott, an African-American woman masquerading as her maid, Marian gets caught up in the dazzling lives of her stupendously rich neighbors, led by a ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife struggling for acceptance by the Astor and Vanderbilt set. Will Marian follow the established rules of society, or forge her own path in this exciting new world that is on the brink of transformation into the modern age?" 

Fellowes created and wrote the series. He is executive producing alongside Gareth Neame and Michael Engler, with the latter set to direct the drama. The series is now a co-production between Universal Television and HBO. The Gilded Age reteams Fellowes with Neame, who both collaborated on Downton Abbey and its upcoming feature film. 

"I feel very privileged to be making The Gilded Age with HBO and Universal Television," Fellowes said. "It has been a dream of mine for some time, as I am fascinated by this brutal and intensely glamorous period of America's history. It will be about ambition, of course, and envy and hatred and, perhaps most of all, about love. I hope people will enjoy the series. I know I will enjoy making it."

The Gilded Age has been a long time coming. NBC first put the drama into development in 2012. It was picked up to series in January 2018, with the broadcast network saying it would debut in 2019. The drama has not yet been cast and a premiere date has not been determined.

The Gilded Age joins an HBO slate that also includes the dramas Euphoria, Succession, Watchmen, His Dark Materials, The Deuce, The New Pope, Westworld, My Brilliant Friend, Gentleman Jack, Big Little Lies, Perry Mason, The Nevers, The Time Traveler's Wife, Lovecraft Country and J.J. Abrams' Contraband, among others.