Douglas is Cancelled star Hugh Bonneville on why his newsroom-set comedy-drama is 'genius'

Hugh Bonneville as Douglas in a suit with a red cross taped across his mouth sits on a sofa next to Karen Gill as Madeline in a maroon dress against a London backdrop in Douglas is Cancelled
Douglas is Cancelled – presenter Douglas (Hugh Bonneville) is embroiled in a controversy but will his colleague Madeline (Karen Gillan) help or hinder him? (Image credit: ITV)

Douglas is Cancelled centres on the explosive fallout after a veteran TV presenter gets caught up in a potentially career-ending media storm.

Penned by Doctor Who and Sherlock writer Steven Moffat, the four-part comedy-drama is airing on ITV1 in the UK from Thursday, June 27 and is also available as a box set on streaming site ITVX from the same date. 

It sees Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, The Gold), play popular broadcaster Douglas Bellowes, who presents nightly news show Live At Six with slick co-host Madeline Crow, portrayed by Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy).

Douglas faces ‘cancellation’, however, after he is accused of telling a sexist joke at a family wedding and a horrified guest raises the issue on social media. Douglas claims not to remember what he said, but he, his cynical producer Toby (Hijack's Ben Miles), and the show’s deluded comedy writer Morgan (Ted Lasso's Nick Mohammed) must try to deal with the consequences…

Here, Hugh Bonneville and Karen Gillan tell What To Watch about Douglas is Cancelled

Douglas is Cancelled marks a reunion for you both with Steven Moffat, after working with him on Doctor Who. Did you enjoy teaming up with him again?

Karen Gillan: “Steven’s one of my favourite writers. I love his dialogue full of brilliant one-liners. I first read this in play form [Steven Moffat originally intended it for the stage], so when Steven said, ‘We're making this into a television show. Would you play Madeline?’ I was excited.”

Hugh Bonneville: “Yes, It was a great honour to receive a script from Steven. And what I loved was that the laughter in the first two episodes, and the wonderful satire and comments on society, gradually stick in the throat by the end. You feel ashamed at what you laughed at. That's the genius of Steven’s writing – he draws you in and then punches you in the face!”

Hugh Bonneville as Douglas in a suit reads a script while sitting on a sofa next to Karen Gillan as Madeline in a maroon dress reading an iPad in Douglas is Cancelled

Douglas (Hugh Bonneville) and Madeline (Karen Gillan) are a perfect presenting duo, but trouble is brewing in Douglas is Cancelled. (Image credit: ITV)

What is your take on your characters?

Hugh Bonneville: “Douglas is residing on the throne of respectability on a sofa every night, but he has been a frontline journalist of repute. He’d say he’s a successful, generous-hearted leader. I don't think he relishes the notion of being a national treasure, but he’s avuncular and comfortable, so nothing can go wrong…” 

Karen Gillan: “Madeline is hard to read. People would say she’s ‘calculated’ or ‘manipulative’, but as the series unfolds, we understand her more and show why she has put up barriers to feel safe and have power over the male characters.” 

Ben Miles in a blue shirt as Toby stands on the studio floor in Douglas is Cancelled

Live At Six's producer Toby (Ben Miles) tries to deal with the fallout from Douglas' scandal in Douglas is Cancelled. (Image credit: ITV)

How do they each react to what happens?

Karen Gillan: “I can’t give much away but Madeline wants Douglas to take accountability. From her perspective, it's his fault that things go so far.”

Hugh Bonneville: “Douglas thinks he can get away with what he reckons are inconsequential comments, whereas every comment lands. And he’s also oblivious that younger generations are savvier and might be after his job. But your sympathies are led down one path, and then there's a swift, ugly reversal.” 

Alex Kingston in a dark jacket as Sheila Bellowes stands in an office in Douglas is Cancelled

Will Douglas' tabloid editor wife Sheila (Alex Kingston) support him in Douglas is Cancelled? (Image credit: ITV)

Does Douglas’ newspaper editor wife Sheila, played by Alex Kingston, back him?

Hugh Bonneville: “There’s a casual inhumanity to her! She loves him but she’s mystified that he’d be so daft – his job in the public eye is to be boring and bland.”

Alex played River Song, Amy Pond’s daughter, in Doctor Who, and she starred with you, Hugh, in 2008’s Lost in Austen. Did you enjoy working together again?

Karen Gillan: “It’s the best! She's an extraordinary actress and one of the funniest people I've met. And it felt like a lovely Doctor Who reunion with Hugh too. 

Hugh Bonneville: “Alex and I were at the National Youth Theatre together, I love working with her – she has a puppy’s enthusiasm! But Karen’s also a class apart, it was an honour being dragged along in her slipstream! Ben Miles is also the perfect wicket-keeper to bounce off, and [House of the Dragon star] Simon Russell Beale’s character [Douglas’ useless agent Bently] evolved brilliantly.” 

Simon Russell Beale as Bently sits across a table from Hugh Bonneville as Douglas in Douglas is Cancelled

Douglas (Hugh Bonneville) receives a lack of assistance from his self-serving agent Bently (Simon Russell Beale) in Douglas is Cancelled. (Image credit: ITV)

Has the show made you think about how easy it is for someone to be ‘cancelled’?

Hugh Bonneville: “Yes, it's about the speed and enormity of it. I have in my mind a combination of a tsunami wave and a wolf! It has destruction in its path and until it tastes some sort of death, it's not satisfied.” 

Karen Gillan: “It’s a scary time to have an existence on social media. We're seeing people being held accountable, who wouldn't have been before. But there's also the terrifying nature of how the population has made their mind up about someone, even though it might be too early.” 

Nick Mohammed in a grey fleece as Morgan stands against a wall by a plant in Douglas is Cancelled

The show's comedy writer Morgan (Nick Mohammed) tries to help defuse the situation in Douglas is Cancelled. (Image credit: ITV)

How would you fare as TV presenters? 

Hugh Bonneville: “I'd be hopeless! I need a script and to hide behind a character. In the show, we visited Kate Garraway [who interviews Douglas and Madeline]. These people have a great skill that I don’t possess!"

Karen Gillan: “It would be my personal hell! Having to read out loud, which is my biggest fear, would be the worst job for me. I have so much admiration for the people that do it.”

And what’s next for you both?

Karen Gillan: “I've got a film that's about to come out called Late Bloomers, which is about a drunken millennial who breaks her hip and then befriends an older Polish lady and they form an unlikely friendship. And I just wrapped on a film called Let's Have Kids, and it's about two women who decide that they will get pregnant at the same time. But my character cannot get pregnant, so she's dealing with all this fertility stuff, and it's really interesting. I'm excited for that too.” 

Hugh Bonneville: “We're in the middle of filming Downton Abbey 3 at the moment. And we're about to start a stint with Paul Giamatti, who's returning to play with us, having been in the TV version [as Cora’s brother Harold], along with Dominic West. And we've got Paddington 3 coming out in November. And also The Gold series two, which we've just wrapped. That filmed a lot in the UK, and then we did a further eight weeks in Tenerife!”

Douglas is Cancelled will air in the UK from Thursday, June 27 at 9pm on ITV1 and is also available as a box-set on streaming site ITVX from the same date. We will let you know about a US release when it is announced.

Caren Clark

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.