August 16, 2013

'Downton Abbey' exploited – in best taste

With the fourth season of the British TV juggernaut comes a wide range of quirky merchandise.

By Jill Lawless / The Associated Press

LONDON – Forget "Mad Men" modernism. This season's style is all about the Edwardian opulence of "Downton Abbey."

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Michelle Dockery portrays Lady Mary in a scene from the second season of “Downton Abbey.”

The Associated Press

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Sophie McShera, right, and Phyllis Logan, cast members in the Masterpiece series "Downton Abbey," take part in a panel discussion on the show at the PBS Summer 2013 TCA press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Aug. 6. Millions around the world have been seduced by the straight-laced but stylish, old-fashioned but opulent world of the British drama. Soon they'll be able to take some of that style home, getting lips as soft as Lady Mary's, wine inspired by Lord Grantham's favorite tipple — and even walls as gray as Mrs. Patmore's kitchen.

File photo/The Associated Press

Millions around the world have been seduced by the strait-laced but stylish world of the British historical drama. Soon they'll be able to take some of that style home, getting lips as soft as Lady Mary's, wine inspired by Lord Grantham's favorite tipple -- and even walls as gray as Mrs. Patmore's kitchen.

Since it premiered in 2010, the series about the family and servants of a grand English house in the 1910s and 1920s has become a television juggernaut, sold to 220 territories around the world.

The program's makers have arguably been slow to exploit the commercial potential of that popularity through merchandising, selling little more than DVD sets, wall calendars and desk diaries. But that is about to change. Along with the fourth season starting on British TV next month, and on PBS in January, comes a range of merchandise that includes a board game, housewares, clothes, beauty products and even "Downton" wine.

All in the best possible taste, of course.

"We haven't rushed into it," executive producer Gareth Neame said. "We don't want to carpet bomb the retail sector."

In keeping with the program's posh-frothy image, the products being rolled out aim to be quirky rather than kitschy.

This fall, British retail chain Marks & Spencer will be selling a "Downton Abbey" beauty line, including soap, nail polish, lip gloss, lotion and scented candles. The items are whimsically packaged and adorned with quotations from the series.

"Downton" merchandising in the U.S. and Canada is handled by Knockout Licensing, which has struck deals for a jewelry range from Danbury Mint and Christmas ornaments from Kurt Adler.

It also has a licensing agreement with figurine manufacturer Bradford Exchange, raising fans' hopes for a range of "Downton" dolls.

North American fans also can soon drink "Downton Abbey" wine, marketed by Wines That Rock, the California company behind Rolling Stones' 40 Licks Merlot and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon. The "Downton" red is a genteel departure for the firm, a French claret reminiscent of those favored by the early 20th-century British aristocracy.

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