Imagine a 1980s Joan Collins-type actress starring as the queen of England in an over-the-top Dynasty-style prime-time soap. After this kind of treatment, the royal family would never be the same.
The queen “B” would have to be beautiful but bad to the bone. The public would adore her, but her family and staff would despise her.
Her son, the prince, would be a notorious playboy whose sexual conquests are all dutifully reported in the press. But now he will have taken a liking to a commoner, much to the queen’s dismay.
There would be photos of the drunken party-girl princess — and of her private parts — on the cover of every tabloid in the country. She also would be sexually blackmailed by her own bodyguard.
The king’s slimy brother would be a sexual predator who would kill to claim the throne.
The mild-mannered king would probably know that his wife has taken a lover. So is it any wonder, amid all of this madness, that he would seriously consider abolishing the monarchy?
There also would be a possible assassin hiding in plain sight at the palace.
Now stop imagining what could be and switch the channel to E! for what is.
The Royals, starring Queen Elizabeth I — which is to say it stars Elizabeth Hurley as Queen Helena, matriarch of a fictional modern-day English monarchy — premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday.
This debaucherous drama is sure to quickly establish itself as the best trash on TV.
Scene-stealing Hurley, the leading lady in the first “Austin Powers” comedy and a 20-year spokesmodel for Estée Lauder, is eager for viewers to check out the show.
“It’s a very nice combination of what the public sees and what the public will never see,” Hurley says. “We had a lot of fun doing the latter bit!”
She stresses, though, that E’s Royal Family is purely a fantasy and that her queen “doesn’t bear any resemblance to the real queen. It’s fiction, fun and it’s showbiz.”
Behind the throne
The Royals, which will have a 10-episode first season, with a Season 2 commitment already in place, comes from Mark Schwahn, creator of a long-running blue-collar soap, One Tree Hill (2003-12).
“I thought it would be really interesting to take a look behind the curtain,” Schwahn says. “Who are these people? What do they want? What will they do to get it?
“We’re going to tell these traditional old-school stories about love, hate, lust and revenge, but we’re going to do it in a way that you haven’t seen, with people you haven’t met, on a stage that has incredible stakes.”
Amazingly, it takes almost no time at all to overcome any suspension of disbelief. The viewer knows this isn’t the real deal, yet this royal family will be as easily accepted as Washington’s first families in The West Wing, 24 and House of Cards.
“I instantly fell in love with this crazy, extravagant family,” says Merritt Patterson, who plays Ophelia, Prince Liam’s commoner girlfriend. “I think people are really going to enjoy watching these people and vicariously sharing in their lavish lifestyle.”
Other cast members include Vincent Regan (300) as King Simon, William Moseley (The Chronicles of Narnia) as Prince Liam and Alexandra Park (the Australian soap Home and Away) as Princess Eleanor.
Ophelia the outsider
Patterson thinks it’s apt that The Royals has a home on E! After all, this is precisely the celebrity-obsessed network that would faithfully follow all of the real royals’ comings and goings.
“The royal family is so intriguing, just because they lead such a public lifestyle,” says Patterson, who is Canadian. “I personally am not a dedicated royal-watcher, but I am familiar with the family and I like Kate Middleton’s style.
“She seems to have come from this normal family, whatever normal is, which is kind of like Ophelia, and she has handled life in the spotlight so gracefully. I can’t imagine how difficult that must be.”
Ophelia is the character viewers will instantly connect with when she steps into a rarefied world. “She’s the only American in the show,” Patterson says, “and she’s very much the outsider, a fish out of water.”
In the second episode, Ophelia will meet a rival for Prince Liam’s heart, his socialite ex-girlfriend Gemma (Sophie Colquhoun) — and their first showdown will involve a bottle of Kentucky bourbon and two shot glasses. In the meantime, Ophelia must hold her own against tart-tongued Queen Helena.
“Elizabeth Hurley is wonderful to work with,” Patterson says. “I have to admit I was a little intimidated when I first met her because, wow, this is Elizabeth Hurley. But she is super down-to-earth, very professional and always available if you ever have questions or want to talk about a scene.”
Hurley, meanwhile, had a starstruck moment of her own when the legendary queen of prime-time soaps, the great Joan Collins in the flesh, was cast as Helena’s mum.
“I was thrilled,” Hurley says. “We’ve had two near-misses of her playing my mom in the past. Every time we would meet at a party, we would say, ‘We’re going to make it happen.’ And she said, ‘Well, you better make it happen soon, because pretty soon you’re going to be too old to play my daughter!’”
Don’t be surprised if Hurley and Collins have it out one day in a Dynasty-style knock-down, drag-out catfight.
“We’ve been begging the writers,” Hurley says.
▪ 9 p.m. Sunday