The drama behind The Gilded Age is probably enough for a show of its own. The Downton Abbey follow up was commissioned in 2012 by NBC Universal, the American partners of Carnival Films, the company behind Downton. (This is why Universal produced the Downton Abbey movie, and all of the show's six seasons are now on NBC's Peacock.) The Gilded Age is the American answer to Downton, set in New York City in the 1880s, the world where someone like Lady Cora Crawley came from, where new moneyed rich female heiresses and old-world respectability jostle for dominance.
But The Gilded Age was also an odd fit for NBC and its cable partners. One cannot imagine such a show on reality TV channels like Bravo, science fiction-oriented SyFy, or the wrestling-heavy USA. A pet project of Bob Greenblatt, who ran NBC, the show languished for years. In 2019, Greenblatt left for WarnerMedia, home of HBO, a channel far more suited to period piece big-budget dramas. He took The Gilded Age with him, turning it into a co-pro between Universal and HBO, set to begin filming in the spring of 2020. Obviously, that got delayed and then delayed again this fall. But it is now confirmed The Gilded Age will start filming in early 2021.
Here's the show's synopsis:
The story begins in 1882 — introducing young Marian Brook, the orphaned daughter of a Union general who moves into the New York City home of her thoroughly old-money aunts Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook. Accompanied by Peggy Scott, an accomplished African-American woman, Marian inadvertently becomes enmeshed in a social war between one of her aunts, a scion of the old-money set, and her stupendously rich neighbors, a ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife, George and Bertha Russell. In this exciting new world that is on the brink of the modern age, will Marian follow the established rules of society or forge her own path?
The nine-episode series sports a giant ensemble cast, led by Christine Baranski (The Good Fight) and Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) as sisters Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook, respectively. Newcomer Louisa Jacobson (Meryl Streep's daughter) plays Marian Brook, the principal heroine, from an old Pennsylvania family but with no money, is sent to live with them. Kelli O'Hara (The King & I) is Aurora Fane, Agnes van Rhijn's niece by marriage, who takes Marian under her wing. Among her possible suitors: Blake Ritson (Indian Summers) as Oscar Van Rhijn Agnes' son and Thomas Cocquerel (The 100) is Tom Raikes, a sensible young lawyer from Doylestown.
Denée Benton (Hamilton) plays Peggy Scott, Marian's friend, an ambitious writer. John Douglas Thompson (King Lear) is her father, Arthur Scott, a freed slave, and successful businessman, and six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald is her mother, Dorothy. As the rival new money family, the Russells, Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) plays middle-class-born Bertha, and Morgan Spector (Homeland)is her robber-baron husband, George. Patrick Page (Hadestown) is Richard Clay, George's secretary. Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) is their daughter, Gladys, and Harry Richardson (Poldark) is son Larry.
As for the rest of the ensemble, Donna Murphy (Passion) is Mrs. Astor, the most prominent American socialite of the time, and Amy Forsyth (Beautiful Boy) is her daughter Carrie. Katie Finneran (Noises Off) plays Anne Morris, the unforgiving wife of city alderman Patrick Morris. Jeanne Triplehorn (Big Love) is Sylvia Chamberlain, a tall and beautiful enigmatic figure in society. Bill Irwin (Rachel Getting Married) portrays Cornelius Eckhard, Ada's a former beau from her days in Pennsylvania, who may still hold a flame for her.
Below stairs, the Van Rhijn household includes Simon Jones (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) as butler Bannister, Debra Monk (Redwood Curtain) as lady's maid Armstrong, and Kristine Nielsen (Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus) as Mrs. Bauer, the cook. The Russells' household includes Jack Gilpin (Billions) is the butler Church, Celia Keenan-Bolger (To Kill a Mockingbird) is housekeeper Mrs. Bruce, and Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) is French chef Monsieur Baudin. Michael Cerveris (Assassins) is the valet, Watson, and Kelley Curran (The Blacklist) is Turner, the lady's maid. Ada's house has Taylor Richardson (All Together Now) as Bridget, the maid, and Ben Ahlers (When the Street Lights Go On) as Jack Treacher, the footman.
The Gilded Age is expected to arrive on HBO in 2022.