TELEVISION'S "Masterpiece Theatre" is celebrating its 25th year
with a revamped image. The anthology series is not exclusively for
the smart and stuffy Anglophile anymore.
If it ever was.
TV's haven of English literacy is presenting more contemporary
works, airing programs on a speeded-up schedule and carrying a
dual passport with American-accented projects.
"If people cling to the belief that this is their parents'
television rather than their own, they'd be surprised to actually
watch," says Rebecca Eaton, the series' executive producer for a
"Masterpiece Theatre" launches its new season Sunday through
Tuesday with Edith Wharton's "The Buccaneers," the first
adaptation of an American novel since Henry James' "The Golden
Bowl" aired during the 1972-`73 season.
For years, sounding even a few bars of the durable "Masterpiece
Theatre" theme music was enough to set the hearts of would-be
Britishers and costume-drama fans aflutter.
"Upstairs, Downstairs," they might murmur, invoking the glory
of series gone by. "Elizabeth R," "Poldark," The Jewel in the
Crown," "Jeeves and Wooster" - British series recounted with loving
Others, however, would recoil like high schoolers reminded
that their book reports on "Wuthering Heights" were due.
That kind of attitude ignores the lively storytelling, sharp
writing and acting that has always been the core of "Masterpiece
Theatre," Eaton says.
"What `Masterpiece Theatre' has become over the years is the
only reliable place on either - television or in movies, I would
argue, where viewers can find a first-rate adaptation of literature
with some regularity," Eaton says.
Created and presented by Boston public TV station WGBH,
"Masterpiece Theatre" is the longest-running prime time dramatic
series on television.
But acknowledging the changing medium, audience tastes and the
value of home-grown culture, "Masterpiece Theatre" has been
More contemporary, hard-edged series are airing, including the
incomparable police drama "Prime Suspect," starring Helen Mirren,
which this season moves over from PBS's "Mystery!"
There are also headline-ready political dramas such as "Final
Cut," the third and final series about ruthless British politician
Francis Urquhart, and "The Politician's Wife," about a sex scandal.
Both air next year.
"We used to draw the line at World War II, even at 20th-century
drama," Eaton says. …