December 10, 2007


‘Masterpiece Theater,’ Now in 3 Flavors: Classic, Mystery, Contemporary (ELIZABETH JENSEN, 12/10/07, NY Times)

“Masterpiece Theater” is one of the higher rated PBS programs. John Boland, the chief content officer for PBS, said the extensive audience research showed that viewers singled it out as one of six programs that defined public television for them. With that in mind, PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting allocated extra money for the overhaul and promotion of the series this season. “Every jewel needs a little polishing now and then,” Mr. Boland said.

While the goal is to attract more viewers, he said “the relaunch certainly can’t hurt” efforts by PBS to find a new corporate sponsor for the program, which has been without underwriting since 2004 when ExxonMobil ended its support of about $9 million annually. Even without a sponsor PBS is “committed to ‘Masterpiece Theater’ for the long term,” Mr. Boland said.

The choice of the 39-year-old Ms. Anderson as host is a significant change from the previous two occupants of the job, both of whom were male journalists: the British-born Alistair Cooke, who introduced the program from 1971 until 1992, and his successor, Russell Baker, the former columnist for The New York Times.

The program has been without a host since Mr. Baker stepped down in 2004. Ms. Anderson is also “considerably younger than either of our previous hosts,” Ms. Eaton said, adding that Ms. Anderson would be alone in a studio, not sitting in the show’s familiar book-lined study. Ms. Anderson, who lives in London and is about to start shooting an “X-Files” film sequel, is already familiar to “Masterpiece” viewers, having starred as Lady Dedlock in Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House,” shown on PBS in January 2006.

In addition to the Austen films, which will begin with a new adaptation of “Persuasion,” starring the British actress Sally Hawkins, the season includes “Miss Austen Regrets,” a biography of the novelist. Other films include “Cranford,” a three-part mini-series starring Judi Dench; “My Boy Jack,” starring Daniel Radcliffe, of the Harry Potter movies, playing the son of the author Rudyard Kipling; and a new adaptation of E. M. Forster’s “Room With a View.”

The damage they've done to their signature franchises is inexcusable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 10, 2007 7:05 AM
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