Downton Abbey, reality TV style: the outstanding Manor House

The crazy popular high-brow soap opera Downtown Abbey returns to PBS Sunday, but if you need a fix now, you should watch–or re-watch–the outstanding reality series Manor House, also known as Edwardian Country House.

The Channel 4 series debuted in 2002 in the UK and in 2003 in the US, following The 1900 House and The 1940s House. But the social class system made Manor House the best of the series.

The cast spent three months living as servants and masters, living according to pre-World War I, Edwardian era rules. Taking equals and subjecting them to the inequality of the time was an utterly fascinating experiment, from the way the Olliff-Coopers’ son took to his new position of authority over others to the way–slight spoiler alert–scullery maids kept quitting.

It’s remarkable how many of the same themes were illustrated by this ridiculously entertaining reality series that Downton Abbey is now exploring. It even had similarly popular cast members, such as the butler, Mr. Edgar.

I’m shocked PBS hasn’t exploited the connections and re-broadcast Manor House, but as of right now, the full series only available on DVD. Some of it has made its way to YouTube, such as the clip below.

It’s worth seeking out the full series, though, because it’s great television from start to finish. PBS needs to find its way back into the reality TV game with this kind of show.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.