British TV In The 2020s: A Look Ahead

(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen)

Predicting the future is a fool's errand, but when years with nice round numbers turn up, people do it anyway. It's hard to know what the next decade will bring in the world of television. If someone had told me in 2009 that the biggest shows of the decade would both premiere in 2010 and be a little show about a house set in the 1910s and a baking competition with the hosts of The Supersizers Go..., I would have thought them mad. But then Downton Abbey and The Great British Baking Show happened, and look at us now.

The entire landscape of TV is shifting under our feet as we speak. By this time next year, two more major players will have entered the streaming game, HBO Max and Peacock, changing the way British TV makes its way into our homes. Local PBS stations have just been made available via YouTube TV, just in time for the new decade. So what is there for us to look forward to? Here are a few guesses.

Call The Midwife, Endeavour, The Crown, and Other Continuing Stories

The series is already greenlit through Season 12 in 2022, but Call The Midwife could run far longer than that. Despite its period trappings and specific expertise, this series is one of the oldest kinds of TV programming, the emsemble medical drama. From General Hospital in the U.S. to the U.K.'s Casualty (both still running!), these shows, with their rotating casts and the never-ending supply of drama, can run for years. Call The Midwife has already shown it can survive cast turnover, and as long as there are humans, there will be babies. We'll be calling the midwife until 2030 if all goes well.

Another type of show that can run forever on TV is the whodunit. Much like Call The Midwife, Endeavour couches the genre in period clothing, as a spinoff of an earlier popular series, Inspector Morse. But with the entire decade of the 1970s to cover, the series could run as long as Shaun Evans is willing to play the role of Morse, or until it catches up with John Thaw's version of the program, which started in 1988, whichever comes first.

The delay of The Crown Season 3 means that the final three seasons originally envisioned by Netflix when it greenlit the show in 2013 will air in the next decade, through to 2022.  The original plan was to end in the mid-2000, partly because no one thought Elizabeth would live another decade. But as long as the Queen keeps ticking, and the royals keep creating drama, this chronical of the Second Elizabethan age can keep going. And that's just the beginning for Netflix, which will continue partnering with the BBC to bring shows like Bodyguard, Peaky Blinders, and Glow Up to American shores under the "Netflix Original" banner

Roaring Revivals & New Series To Watch

Poldark never reached the same heights of popularity as the 1970s original, which was the Downton Abbey of its time. But that doesn't mean PBS is immune to the reboot/reimagine/revival craze that's swept the rest of the TV landscape.

Already there's a new version of All Creatures Great & Small, a reboot of Van der Valk, and the latest take on the E. M. Forster classic Howard's End. Some other ideas that Masterpiece could remake: The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, The Jewel In The Crown, Brideshead Revisited, and I, Claudius. And that's just the less obvious options. It won't be long before new Poirot, new Miss Marples, and new Sherlock Holmes come back yet again for another adaptation for the next generation.

But PBS also has a history of taking risks on new programs, like Downton Abbey. There's Vienna Blood and World on Fire, both arriving in the spring. And there's Roadkill a Hugh Laurie and Helen McCrory0fronted political series. With filming planned for 2020, and a premiere date probably closer to 2021, it's series like these viewers should be keeping on eye on to see where the decade is headed.

It's a truism in Hollywood that if a show works, keep making it, and then make more like it. Downton Abbey has already spawned imitators like Victoria, which even aired in the old Downton slot on ITV for the first two seasons. Now, Downton writer Julian Fellowes has two more Downton-esque series for the 2020s. The first is Belgravia. Set a generation before Downton in the late 1800s, the show will air on Epix and ITV.  The other, The Gilded Age, which is also set in the 1890s era, though in New York instead of England, recently moved from NBC to HBO. It will stream on HBO Max when it arrives next year.

Streaming's Just Getting Started

Speaking of HBO Max, the streaming service, which encompasses all of the Warner Brothers and Turner movie and TV libraries, is also partnering with BBC America. Despite parent network AMC's deal with Acorn TV, all BBC America shows will be streaming on HBO Max come launch in May of 2020. That means HBO's partnership with the BBC and Sky, which brought shows like Chernobyl and His Dark Materials, will find itself supplemented with Doctor Who, Luther, and everyone's newest favorite, Killing Eve.

The rise of streaming will also help the smaller niche services that heretofore haven't gotten much of a boost. Acorn TV is already getting some twitter love with tweet-alongs to Midsommer Murders binges and all things Miss Fisher. With AMC now partnered with Acorn TV, fans can expect it to bring even bigger titles in the next few years. Though it and Britbox may never be as mainstream as Disney+, the rising tide here will carry all boats.

And of course, PBS will also continue to stream content like Line of Separation and The Frankie Drake Mysteries. With local PBS stations now available through YouTube, and PBS Passport accessible to members, the entertainment revolution won't be televised. It will be streamed at your convenience, wherever you happen to be where the WiFi is secure, and the headphones are plentiful.