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downton, shabby
predicted knockoffs of the latest tv craze
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

Somehow, this winter, a crazy thing happened: a show on PBS became all the rage. “Downton Abbey” brought soap-tastic plots, rich dialogue, and sumptuous costumes to World War I Britain, and wrapped it all up in a Masterpiece Classic bow for America. But sadly, a British TV “series” is much shorter than an American TV “season”, and after only a handful of episodes, the show is off the air again. No more viewing parties. No more themed cocktails. Whatever shall we do?

TV execs are asking the same thing, hoping to capitalize on the show’s popularity to capture some of those ratings for themselves. Of course, they need a slightly new – but not too new – spin on the concept. So channels all across cable are whipping up their own versions. So look for these knockoffs coming to a TV near you:

“Downton Flabby.” ABC expands (heh) its “Biggest Loser” franchise to pit two massively overweight teams against each other. One will live like aristocrats – tempted by pigeon pie, teacakes, and clotted cream by the litre – and not even lifting a finger to dress themselves. The other will live like servants in a manor house, heavily involved in the daily labor of carrying boiling water up narrow stairs, ironing newspapers, and hauling whatever needs to be hauled. It’s the Upstairs Team vs. the Downstairs Team – how many stone will they lose?

“Downton Tabby.” Animal Planet zooms in on the life of English manor cats in different eras in history. Some were ratters in the stables, living paw to mouth; some lived nine lives of luxury, hand-fed kedgeree from the breakfast table. Hear about their hopes, their daily struggles, and what really rumpled their fur. And what about the royal cats of Buckingham Palace? As we all know, a cat may look at a queen. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch.

“Downton Cabbie.” Discovery Channel adapts their popular “Cash Cab” quiz-show-in-a-conveyance concept for the non-motorized set. Participants are picked up in a horse-drawn carriage and must answer trivia questions about manorial manners while being jostled violently on wheels without shocks over rough unpaved roads – and while trying to figure out how much a “quid” actually comes out to in U.S. money.

“Downtown Abby.” NBC tries yet again to recapture the magic of its golden sitcom days gone by with this half-hour laffer from Michael Patrick King and – oh, no! – that Whitney person who’s still inexplicably everywhere. Abby Downs was a dyed-in-the-wool Uptown Girl, until her investment banker fiancé dumped her for taking a bad passport photo. Now she lives on the Lower East Side above a falafel shop that’s also a speakeasy, and talks frankly with her ladyfriends about her sexual escapades. Constantly. Hilarious! (A third Deschanel sister is being sought for the lead.)

“Downton’s Next Top Model.” Tyra Banks shakes up her usual cast of gorgeous, insecure, short-fused American supermodel wannabes with a fresh injection of British blood – oh, wait! This one is actually more or less happening.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

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adam kraemer
3.5.12 @ 10:05a

Well, it's 20 bob per quid, so just do the math.

tracey kelley
3.5.12 @ 2:23p

"Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch."

Well. That's the one I'll DVR and watch over and over.

And over.

tracey kelley
3.5.12 @ 2:25p

My comment posted twice. But, Benedict Cumberbatch is worth a second look.


jael mchenry
3.5.12 @ 4:10p

Everything's better with Cumberbatch.

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