Jeremy Piven's new TV series is set in decorous England, not the hedonistic Hollywood of "Entourage." The time is the early 1900s, when booming London would have struck the very 21st-century Ari Gold as a mind-numbing bust.
And, most notably, "Mr. Selfridge," starring Piven as the real-life American entrepreneur whose mission was to transform and conquer British retailing, is airing not on the frisky, few-holds-barred HBO home of "Entourage," but on restrained PBS.
Don't get the wrong idea, cautions Piven, who earned three Emmys for his portrayal of power player Ari. The eight-part series debuting with a two-hour episode Sunday (check local listings for time) has its hero's brash, lusty passion — for business and women — at its core.
"Yes, it's a period piece. But the term 'period' has to be used loosely, because it's also funny and it has energy and it moves," Piven said. Lovers of standard British costume dramas ("Downton Abbey" fans, you know who you are) shouldn't be put off, he added.
"This will, I think, satisfy those people who want to see the way it was at the turn of the century ... but then you also get all the energy and the sexiness and the humor," he said.
"Mr. Selfridge," based on the nonfiction book "Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge" by Lindy Woodhead, details Harry Gordon Selfridge's quest to bring brassy American salesmanship to the hidebound world of British shops with his enduring Selfridges & Co.
The series co-stars Zoe Tapper as Ellen Love, a fictional character drafted as an amalgam of Selfridge's assorted extramarital romances, and Frances O'Connor as his loyal but tested wife, Rose. ("He was an exceptionally active man with the ladies," wryly observed screenwriter Andrew Davies, who adapted Woodhead's book for the series co-produced by PBS' "Masterpiece" and ITV Studios.)
Selfridge, who had honed his retailing strategies and marketing skills at Chicago's famed Marshall Field, built an Oxford Street shopping palace that introduced such concepts as elaborate window displays and cosmetics counters, and services ranging from restaurants to beauty salons to a concierge.
His bravura and extravagance in creating Selfridges was boundless, as was his optimism. Some in the British press sneered: "A crusade has been started to force on London superfluous luxuries such as those overstocked across the Atlantic," warned the British Weekly, according to Woodhead's history.
The contrast between the U.S. and the U.K. was part of the project's draw for him, Piven said.
"Our culture and the American dream is butting heads directly with the British culture and the realistic take they have on life," he said. "They believe it's tough out there — very few make it and you probably won't. We're all, 'You can do it! You can do anything!'"