Midwives bicycle across the pond in Downton Abbey's wake
American viewers couldn't get enough of the class snobbery and grandeur of Downton Abbey. But will the misery of the East End's post-war slums prove quite as appealing when Call The Midwife becomes the latest British drama to cross the Atlantic?
The series, about a group of midwives in 1950s London, became BBC1's most popular new drama for more than a decade. It has now been snapped up for a Sunday night prime-time slot by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which scored record ratings when it broadcast Downton Abbey.
American executives believe that the themes of nursing and childbirth, set against a gritty period backdrop, will translate to US viewers despite the lack of glamorous gowns and high-born scheming which has made Downton Abbey an international hit. Adapted by Heidi Thomas from Jennifer Worth's memoirs, the series stars Jessica Raine as Jenny Lee, a young midwife who is attached to an order of nursing nuns and must navigate the teeming East End streets and a culture very different from the English countryside where she was raised.
The series, which attracted nearly 10 million viewers on BBC1, is being sold to international broadcasters by BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial wing.
The success of Downton Abbey has prompted renewed international enthusiasm for British period drama. When Downton Abbey aired in the US, fans held dinner parties dressed in 1930s outfits. The series-two finale in February recorded 5.4 million viewers, PBS's highest ratings for two years. PBS will pair Call The Midwife with Upstairs, Downstairs, the BBC's revived version of the Edwardian-era domestic saga, to create a Sunday night "destination" for viewers wanting the best of UK period drama.
PBS is expected to broadcast a special introduction before the midwifery drama, to explain the historical context to US viewers. The actress Laura Linney performed a similar role before Downton Abbey was shown.
Paula Kerger, PBS's president, said: "We look forward to working with our BBC partners to introduce the story and the characters that were so beloved in Britain to the American audience."
Matt Forde, the head of sales at BBC Worldwide America, said: "Call The Midwife has been a phenomenal hit in the UK and we expect that its appeal will successfully cross the pond."
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I was a Woman Against Feminism too
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 4 The Tory donor whose firm is one of Britain’s biggest tax avoiders - with HMRC's blessing
- 5 John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss
Comic-Con 2014: Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch and Game of Thrones' George RR Martin set to attend
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous movie
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
George R. R. Martin responds to 13-year-old fan's 'heartfelt' letter asking for a grisly death in Game of Thrones
Star Wars 7: Plot details 'leak', with sequel's opening sequence and premise revealed
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains