Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS
Rebecca Eaton, Patricia Mulcahy
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
The Emmy Award-winning producer of PBS's Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! reveals the secrets to Downton Abbey, Sherlock, and its other hit programs
For more than twenty-five years and counting, Rebecca Eaton has presided over PBS's Masterpiece Theatre, the longest running weekly prime time drama series in American history. From the runaway hits
Upstairs, Downstairs and The Buccaneers, to the hugely popular Inspector Morse, Prime Suspect, and Poirot, Masterpiece Theatre and its sibling series Mystery! have been required viewing for fans of quality drama.
Eaton interviews many of the writers, directors, producers, and other contributors and shares personal anecdotes—including photos taken with her own camera—about her decades-spanning career. She reveals what went on behind the scenes during such triumphs as Cranford and the multiple, highly-rated programs made from Jane Austen's novels, as well as her aggressive campaign to attract younger viewers via social media and online streaming. Along the way she shares stories about actors and other luminaries such as Alistair Cooke, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Radcliffe, whose first TV role was as the title character in David Copperfield.
Readers will also get to know Eaton on a personal level. With a childhood steeped in theater, an affinity for nineteenth century novels and culture, and an "accidental apprenticeship" with the BBC, Eaton was practically born to lead the Masterpiece and Mystery! franchises. Making Masterpiece marks the first time the driving force behind the enduring flagship show reveals all.
I relate them not only to my own life but also to the work I do. If you could distill the essence of Masterpiece, it might be that it is stories about families. Family stories are sagas: love, betrayal, money, infatuation, infidelity, illness, family love, and family deception. Those stories are our own stories writ large, usually with happy endings, and usually in times and places much more exotic or melodramatic than our own. And that is what I love most in the world—stories. I love them on
PBS had had a more or less noncompetitive ride through the landscapes of documentaries, political programs, and high-end dramas. Even when the networks dove into miniseries like crazy, they were very different from what we were co-producing with the British. In 1989, for example, CBS aired Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Though PBS was organized completely differently than NBC, CBS, and ABC, it was basically America’s fourth network. Its ratings were good, and Masterpiece Theatre’s were among
of producers and creating a development roster of new series that would eventually make WGBH an international center for nonfiction programming. The science series NOVA was already up and running very well when Peter took over, but he appointed Paula Apsell as its executive producer, and she took it to new heights. He brought in David Fanning to create Frontline, the current affairs documentary series (David was the producer of the controversial Death of a Princess), and Judy Crichton and
how well the part of Mark Twain suited him. He lived in San Francisco, knew that Sam Clemens had settled there as a journalist in the 1860s, and felt the affinity. I think the project spoke to Robin. Then Brian Eastman, the producer of Traffik, Jeeves and Wooster, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, the midwife of Middlemarch, and a great friend, got the scripts to Richard Attenborough (Gandhi, Cry Freedom, A Chorus Line), who instantly agreed to direct. Robin wanted to meet him, so we all gathered one
and whose work and integrity I’d admired for years: Laura Linney, Helen Mirren, and Meryl Streep—my royalty. However, for each Downton “high,” there oddly seems to be a “low” for Masterpiece. Four months earlier, when Julian had accepted the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, his surprise and delight apparently jumbled up his prepared remarks, and he thanked NBC but not PBS. My heart sank. Yes, NBCUniversal owns the production company, Carnival Film and Television, that makes Downton.