The next season of "Downton Abbey" will be the show's last, but it looks like we might get a movie. Director Gareth Neame conducted a conference call following the announcement by Carnival Films and ITV on Thursday, to discuss how the decision was made, the possibility for follow-ups and "what will become of poor Edith."
"I think our feeling with this is that it's good to quit while you're ahead."
"There are so many different explanations," he said, discussing why they've chosen this moment to end things. "I think with this show we've always tried to get our timing right. We've always tried to move the story when the characters aren't at the right point, starting with when Mary and Matthew got engaged. I think our feeling with that is that it's good to quit while you're ahead ... The danger with this sort of thing is to let them go on forever."
Neame was a bit hesitant to speak to the specifics of Season 6, though it seems he, Julian Fellowes and the cast have been in talks over ending the show for quite some time. Fellowes is headed over to NBC to work on "The Gilded Age," so there was some speculation that move weighed heavily on this announcement, though Neame said it was a joint decision.
"I will say that if Julian wanted out of the show, I would not be inclined to keep the show alive without Julian," Neame said. "He's the creator of the show, he's written every episode, he's created all of those characters ... I couldn't entertain continuing to make the show with other writers. I think that would be a big mistake. But it really isn't the case the Julian said, 'I want out, I want to do other things,' and everyone else is being forced."
He added that the cast, though they are excited about what is next for them (many of the younger members have Hollywood prospects), was on board with "Downton" finding its way to an end.
"The cast has taken their characters on the journeys they want to go on. For us and the producers, we've feel that we've told this story. And, don't forget, when we set out to do this in the first place ... we didn't know we would be one one of the biggest shows on American television. I think when we started with this we would have been perfectly happy if we'd won for three seasons." Neame noted that the show, which started in the UK, is now shown in over 250 territories. Though ratings have dropped off a bit at home (they still have about 10.5 million viewers), he says ratings in the US have been much higher and remained stable, so that was not a factor.
"This has not be ITV calling time or PBS in the US calling time," he said. "I don't think it's unfair for me to say that they would obviously like the show to continue on for as long as possible."
As for what Neame can tell us about Season 6, he was certain only that this will answer many of the series current open-ended questions. Since he and Fellowes have been preparing to end things, they have a good idea of where they'd like the characters to end up.
"The structure of the upcoming season will be exactly the same," he said. "It's 11 hours of drama over 9 episodes. In this, the finale, as usual will be on Christmas night. Having planned for a little while now that we were going to end, while developing these episodes we've very much had an eye to where the characters are going to end up, what's going to happen in terms of their character resolutions. And I think they will make the sixth season the finest of them all."
He addressed the fact that there are a number of loose ends. "What will become of poor Edith? Will Anna and Bates ever get reprieve?" he asked, by way of example. "People really want to know these things. We can promise all these things that people love about the show: the drama, the romance and the comedy, but with that extra dimension of what will happen in the end."
"The best thing that could have happened for the story is for Mary to end up as a widow."
Although the Season 6 scripts are "substantially written," Neame wouldn't say anything about who lives or dies (read: there is no promise we won't be ripping our hearts out over dead characters at Christmas).
"I don't regret anything about them," he said of the show's death toll thus far. "I think the death of high profile characters allowed the show to clear off into directions that people wouldn't normally expect from this kind of content. It made the show, at times, edgier than it might have been. I think it gave us dramatic rocket fuel. In a way, the best thing that could have happened for the story is for Mary to end up as a widow, so that she had to start rebuilding her life all over again."
Asked about the possibility of a feature film, Neame said there might be one following the series finale. "Yes, I can confirm that there have been rumors," he said. "There might be a 'Downton' movie. Our condition on that is that we would be very interested in that. It is definitely something that we're contemplating. It would be great fun to do. I think it would be a great extension of everything we love about the TV show."
Neame was pretty reticent with follow-ups, though he indulged a question about his most absurd fantasy plot line. "Somebody asked me a question the other day ... about sort of what would be [my] favorite dinner party. So, I imagined it in a 'Downton Abbey' scenario, and I thought, if you could have Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright from 'House Of Cards' and also probably about three or four characters from 'Game Of Thrones,' probably the ones who don't use knives and forks ... that would be a good scene."
Make that please, Internet?