With its biggest hit show Downton Abbey in full swing on air this winter, PBS is looking to Mr. Selfridge, which is shaping up to be a hit across the pond on ITV, to continue to bring in the viewers come spring. A far cry from his famous portrayal as talent agent Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage, Jeremy Piven goes back a hundred years or so to play Harry Selfridge, an American businessman who founded the famous Selfridge’s department store in London.
Piven told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena that while he was not thinking TV would be his next move, Mr. Selfridge was the right project. “There was no way to not do this, really,” he said. “Being on Masterpiece is like telling a Jewish mother you’re going to be a doctor. I’ve made it.”
While the show has not yet been renewed for a second season – and won’t air the first until March 31 here in the U.S. – prospects for season 2 are looking good.
Writer and showrunner Andrew Davies told reporters he’s already written part of the second season on spec. “We should hear very soon,” Davies said. “It’s done such good numbers in the U.K. that I’m very confident.”
The show follows the life and loves of Harry Selfridge, who pioneered department store design and customer service. He is attributed to famous slogans like “the customer is always right.” The fictionalized show is based on the non-fiction biography of Selfridge, Shopping, Seduction, and Mr. Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead.
As a midwesterner, Piven said he grew up going to famous Chicago department store Marshall Fields, where Selfridge got his start. . “We have a history with that place. He [Selfridge] made Marshall Fields what it is today. He saw it as theater. He loved P.T. Barnum, he was a performer.”
Piven’s costar, British actress Zoe Tapper, plays Selfridge’s mistress, and says she sees the shopping experience portrayed in Mr. Selfridge as one of new freedoms for women at the time. ”It was quite an empowering scenario for them. It was a time of a lot of change, and Harry was the man to embrace that change and run with it,” Tapper said.
But the making of the show itself – most of which is shot in a warehouse in London – does seem to bring out the Ari Gold in Piven. When asked about the differences between making a show in the U.S. compared to in London, Piven said the British “just get it done.” “They do something that’s insanely magical – they get all of their work done in 12 hours. That’s just the way they work. We had to do a scene together and I remember we had 28 minutes to rehearse it shoot it and finish it.”
Mr. Selfridge airs March 31 through May 19 on PBS.