Right now trash television is having a moment. Empire, the most ludicrous Shakespeare adaptation every invented, has seen its ratings soar week after week. Scandal, consistently one of the most popular shows on Twitter, has the president of the United States invading a country just to save his girlfriend. And now we have the Prince of England getting wasted in a bar and sleeping with an American who happens to be the daughter of the head of palace security. Welcome to The Royals.
That’s not the only thing that makes this show outrageous. The first scripted show on E! (which premieres in the US Sunday 15 March at 10pm EST), The Royals looks at the seedy life behind the scenes of the British royal family. Creator Mark Schwahn, the mastermind behind CW mainstay One Tree Hill, takes pains to say repeatedly, “it’s not the royal family, it’s a royal family.”
These fictitious royals are headed by King Simon (Vincent Regan), a solemn and milquetoast leader married to Queen Helena (Elizabeth Hurley), whose hemlines are too short to allow her to curtsey without exposing her crown jewels. In the first episode their eldest son Robert dies mysteriously, leaving their next son Liam (William Moseley), the one with the commoner love interest, in line for the throne. His twin sister Eleanor (Alexandra Park) doesn’t care: she’s too busy boozing it up at nightclubs and making out with whomever happens to cross her path. Sure, Prince Harry might have the odd nude photo scandal, but this is a lot more hot and heavy than the real Buckingham Palace.
Schwahn says this added level of soapiness is what makes the show so fun. “You have this place of vast wealth and power and we’re fictionalising it, so we can add greed and scandal and sex and everything that can give you that high-wire, soapy, modern day Dynasty world,” he says.
Casting Hurley, better known for her beauty campaigns than acting ability, certainly helped get people understand what he was going for. And if that didn’t work, casting Joan Collins to play her mother certainly did. Schwahn says that Hurley is adept in the part. “I was so thrilled that she has a great sense of self and a wonderful sense of humour and she’s brave and fearless in playing the villain,” he says. The show was originally pitched to Schwahn as an adaptation of a book calledFalling for Hamlet, told from the perspective of Ophelia. (A relic from that iteration is that Prince Liam’s American-raised girlfriend is named Ophelia.) Schwahn wasn’t really into that. “First of all, everyone dies, so it’s tricky to do a series,” he jokes. Instead he thought up the idea of a family drama, except the family happens to be the one that reigns over the UK.
That seems like an odd sell for an American audience, especially for a show on E! which is more well known for its red carpet coverage and the reigning queen of tabloid covers, Kim Kardashian. “We have one of everything in this day in age, but we don’t have a royal family,” says Schwahn of the appeal for an American audience. “I never set out to throw stones at the British monarchy. I wanted to create a fictional world and put it into modern-day London.”
Most of the characters are very dissimilar to Elizabeth, Charles, William, Kate, and the rest, though King Simon’s daffy nieces Penelope and Maribel (Lydia Rose Bewley and Hatty Preston) do bear some resemblance to two other crazy hat-wearing princesses.
Schwahn says that the show did hire a royal consultant to find out the real way that ceremonies would run and how protocol would be handled, but, more often than not, the reality wasn’t helpful in plotting the show. “The way it would really happen either we can’t do it, we don’t want to do it, or it won’t get us to where we want to be four episodes from now,” he says.
The Royals needs to be concerned about not running out of storylines too quickly. While King Simon’s question of whether or not to dissolve the monarchy, a lark he announces in the pilot, will be resolved by the end of the first season, E! hasalready ordered a second season that will begin filming this year in London and at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, which stands in for Buckingham Palace.
Since the show has already been renewed, Schwahn isn’t that concerned about reviews or awards, if he ever cared in the first place. He knows that delightful trash such as The Royals never gets its due. “I don’t expect to win an Emmy, but there are episodes that are such worthy, compelling hours of television,” he says. “I’m not chasing reviews because my audience isn’t going to read those things. The people who will love this show will tweet about it and that’s more where the foundation of the show is living.” Now, how many seasons do you think we’ll have to go before we get a royal serial killer?