E! has ordered a second season of its soapy drama The Royals, starring Elizabeth Hurley, before it even premieres. The pickup was announced Thursday at the Television Critics Association winter previews, moments before the show's panel.
The Royals, which premieres in March and is E!'s first foray into scripted programming, follows a fictional modern-day royal family anchored by Queen Helena (Hurley) and King Simon (Vincent Regan). After (spoiler alert) one of their children dies in the premiere, the dynasty falls to their unworthy twins, Prince Liam (William Moseley), who, after his brother's death, is thrust into a spotlight he's not prepared for; and Princess Eleanor (Alexandra Park), a boozehound who exudes confidence but is "actually pretty lost."
"There are heroes and there are villains," creator Mark Schwahn (One Tree Hill) told critics. "Rarely are we celebrating the villains. ... These characters are pretty human. Some days they have good days and they're on the better side of things, and some days they're pretty nefarious and kind of fall short."
Though the show certainly has its fair share of camp, Schwan says his aim was not to satirize the actual Royal Family - especially as an American.
"It's a royal family, but it's not the royal family," Schwan told critics. "You can talk sh-- about your family, but nobody else can. I totally get that. ... Americans should think the show is so British, and the Brits should think the show is not British at all. That's where we've sort of lived."
Hurley said that she drew inspiration for Queen Helena from Princess Diana, with a touch of Cruella de Vil thrown in for good measure. "I thought to myself, what would it have been like if Princess Diana had become Queen of England?" she said. "How she dressed, how she spoke, everything we saw as the public. ... What we never got to see with Princess Diana really was behind those closed doors. So all that I made up myself."
A surprise guest at Thursday's panel was Joan Collins, who guest-stars as Queen Helena's mother, the Grand Duchess of Oxford. Collins describes the grand duchess as a "progression" from her Dynasty character, Alexis. "I think that the grand duchess, is more of a behind-the-scenes manipulator of her children," she told critics. "I do feel that this woman has a certain gravitas that Alexis did not have. I would say Queen Helena is more like Alexis." ("I'm delighted by that comparison," Hurley piped in.)
Thursday's renewal "caught us all off guard," according to Schwahn, who nonetheless is confident about the show's long-term future.
"I feel like if we're not doing seasons 5, 6 and 7 I've made a big mistake," he said.
The Royals premieres Sunday, March 15 at 10/9c on E!. Will you watch? Check out a sneak peek below: