Downton Abbey bosses “tried to convince Julian Fellowes to hand over the reins”

Attempts were made to save the ITV period drama from cancellation by seeking to persuade Fellowes to let another writer take over, according to sources

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Could Downton Abbey have been taken over by another writer?

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The news that it is coming to an end after six series was officially confirmed last week following RadioTimes.com’s revelation in October that it was on the cards.

But RadioTimes.com understands that executives on the show did their best to persuade creator and writer Julian Fellowes to hand over his Downton quill to someone else in order to keep the show going long before the decision was announced.

Fellowes is due to begin work on his new NBC period drama The Gilded Age and has always said he could never write it at the same time as Downton. But it is understood that appeals to allow another writer to take over the ITV show fell on deaf ears. 

“ITV wanted Julian to let someone else do it but it wasn’t something he wanted,” said a high level production source. “Downton is Julian’s.”

Speaking before the announcement was made last week, Downton star Hugh Bonneville was pretty clear that Fellowes couldn’t be replaced even if he had agreed to the alleged offer.

“Julian’s writing is is distinctive,” the man who plays Lord Grantham told RadioTimes.com while delicately sidestepping what was then just speculation.

“The style and wit and the way he constructs scenes. I only recently realised that you go into a scene with one thing and leave with another. There is a momentum there. A scene starts with something then becomes about something else. When people try and satirise it they never get it quite right because you can’t copy Julian.” 

Downton spoofs over the years have included the 2011 Comic Relief skit Uptown Downstairs Abbey starring Kim Cattrall, Olivia Colman, Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Harry Enfield and Sarah Solemani. Another was the CollegeHumor sketch The Britishers in which the ladies of the house swoon over a young Hitler in 1912.

An official statement released last week confirmed that viewers will be bidding farewell to the Crawleys and their servants with one more series and a final Christmas special to be broadcast in December.

“The Downton journey has been amazing for everyone aboard,” said Fellowes. “People ask if we knew what was going to happen when we started to make the first series and the answer is that, of course we had no idea.”

Speaking to reporters after the decision was announced, producer Gareth Neame made it clear that he wouldn’t have been interested in recruiting another writer.

Asked whether it was a joint decision by him and Fellowes to end the show, Neame responded:  “I would say that if Julian wanted out of the show I would not be inclined to try and keep the show alive without Julian.  

“He has been the creator of the show; he’s written every episode. He’s created all of those characters and it has been a fantastic partnership. And I couldn’t entertain continuing to make the show with other writers. I think that would be a big mistake. However it isn’t the case that Julian and I want out to do other things and everyone has been forced into this decision.”

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The sixth and final series of Downton Abbey is due to air on ITV in the autumn