Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS Info

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First edition. Masterpiece bookplate signed by Rebecca Eaton on the free endpaper.

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Reviews for Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS:

4

Jan 04, 2014

Interesting trivia for fans of Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery!. Who knew Rebecca turned down the 1995 Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth and almost turned down Downton Abbey?

Enjoyable.
4

Jun 27, 2013

Really enjoyed this as a lifelong Masterpiece fan (courtesy of my British mum), but also as a television news producer. Rebecca Eaton wrote the best two paragraph description of what television producers do that I have ever read. And, as before I read the book, I think Eaton has one of the best jobs in television!
2

Dec 08, 2013

All the logistics of putting together a television series, all the problems of finding and maintaining funding as well as the tidbits behind the scenes fills the pages. Interesting if you like to learn about Alistair Cooke's quirks and how "Downton Abbey" found its place on PBS. But the book would have benefited from some additional editing.
5

Aug 21, 2016

This is a combination memoir of Rebecca Eaton and of Masterpiece Theatre. I have long been a fan of Masterpiece theatre and love the theme music. It was fun to learn where and how the theme music came about and how the program began. Eaton weaves an absorbing story of her own life with that of the Masterpiece Theatre. Eaton tells of her early life as the daughter of a famous actress and a father who was a Shakespeare professor.

She tells of her apprenticeship with the BBC living in England and This is a combination memoir of Rebecca Eaton and of Masterpiece Theatre. I have long been a fan of Masterpiece theatre and love the theme music. It was fun to learn where and how the theme music came about and how the program began. Eaton weaves an absorbing story of her own life with that of the Masterpiece Theatre. Eaton tells of her early life as the daughter of a famous actress and a father who was a Shakespeare professor.

She tells of her apprenticeship with the BBC living in England and working for WGBH, the Boston affiliate of PBS. She tells about Downton Abbey and all the other famous mini-series presented over the years; she also includes her failures. Eaton tells of the establishment of Mystery and in 2010 obtaining Sherlock. Throughout the book Eaton comes off as a woman who is remarkable and unskeptical for a veteran TV executive; her love of her work comes through.

The book is well written and a delight to read. The book was well organized and the pace was perfect. The book is written in the first person. Eaton has actors and fellow staffers tell their personal anecdotes in the first person. For example: Diana Riggs discussed how she became the host of Mystery; various staff people and actors talked about what key roles they played and shared comments on Eaton. Made the memoir different and more interesting.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. Meredith Mitchell does a good job narrating the book. Mitchell is a stage, film, television actress and audiobook narrator.

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4

Jan 13, 2014

I come late to the plate of Masterpiece Theatre, so late in fact that the Theatre piece had been dropped from the title by the time I tuned in. Perhaps I wasn't quite a woman of a certain age or time was at a premium or I watched something else on Sunday nights. I do remember a time when my family did not get any PBS stations so maybe that was the reason. At any rate I'm now making up for lost time.

When the opportunity rose to learn a bit of the background of Masterpiece (as it is now known) I come late to the plate of Masterpiece Theatre, so late in fact that the Theatre piece had been dropped from the title by the time I tuned in. Perhaps I wasn't quite a woman of a certain age or time was at a premium or I watched something else on Sunday nights. I do remember a time when my family did not get any PBS stations so maybe that was the reason. At any rate I'm now making up for lost time.

When the opportunity rose to learn a bit of the background of Masterpiece (as it is now known) and to hear the inside scoop from its producer, Rebecca Eaton I was on board in a minute. Going on this life journey with Eaton made me sorely aware of just what I had missed all these years.

Eaton tells lots of stories and even a few tales out of school. She shares her hopes, her dreams, her fears and the politics of making one of the longest running, most popular programs of all time. Imagine working with Alistair Cooke, flying back and forth across the ocean, making decisions that can make or break this institution.

I always thought Masterpiece was sponsored by different corporate entities, some wealthy benefactors and viewers like you. Though this may be true today I didn't realize the long run of sponsorship by Mobile Oil.

I didn't know that Alistair Cooke had been the host of Masterpiece for twenty-one years. Quite a run. Eaton outlined what a professional he was and how hard he was to replace. She gave credit to Russell Baker who was the next long term host. He had big shoes to fill and did so for eleven good years of his own. It was sad for me and must have been truly devastating for Eaton when in 2004 they could no longer afford a host.

Eaton not only cheers the awards Masterpiece has won but has owned up to mistakes made, letting us in on her successes and failures. She gives us a glimpse of the differences of the reception, likes and dislikes, the mores so to speak of our British neighbors versus the American viewing public. She asks "How long can Masterpiece last" Eaton states that the series "is so utterly connected to the judgment and good taste" that she sees no end in sight. This to our benefit.

Other changes that Eaton weathered was the eventual blending of three series, Masterpiece, Mystery and Contemporary into the present day Sunday nine o'clock spot once held only by Masterpiece. Giving up something has allowed a continuance of much fine programing and what could have been the demise of all is once again a successful venture.

There is renewed fervor for Masterpiece and its mission with the new generation of viewers of programs like Downton Abbey, Sherlock, and Endeavor. It is evident from this memoir of Eaton's time producing Masterpiece how much she loves what she does and how we, the viewers benefit from this.

I have much catching up to do before I can truly claim title as fan. I'm glad I read Making Masterpiece as I have a much better understanding of how it came to be. ...more
4

Jan 13, 2014

Many of us remember that first Masterpiece Theatre production, back in 1969, of the Forsyte Saga. It went on for 26 weeks and since there were no commercial tapes let alone DVDs we had to watch it every single week for half a year on Sunday night at 9 PM. Who could forget?

But it turns out The Forsyte Saga was not a Masterpiece Theatre production. In her delightfully gossipy book, Making Masterpiece: 25 Years, Rebecca Eaton, the executive producer of the show for the past 28 years, clears up a Many of us remember that first Masterpiece Theatre production, back in 1969, of the Forsyte Saga. It went on for 26 weeks and since there were no commercial tapes let alone DVDs we had to watch it every single week for half a year on Sunday night at 9 PM. Who could forget?

But it turns out The Forsyte Saga was not a Masterpiece Theatre production. In her delightfully gossipy book, Making Masterpiece: 25 Years, Rebecca Eaton, the executive producer of the show for the past 28 years, clears up a lot of such mistakes.

I borrowed this book from the library because I assumed it was a coffee-table book with lots of photos and very little text. I was wrong, although there are many photos. There is one of the author with Sherlock Holmes, Morse, Campion, and Poirot that I particularly like.

The book is a memoir of the life of Rebecca Eaton, who turns out to be an interesting person with a rich family background in show biz. When she graduated from Vassar she took a year-long job in London working for the BBC. She was entirely new to broadcasting. When she asked her boss where she could get tapes so she could watch the show she was going to be working on she was shocked to discover it was not television but radio. Oops.

That job led to her later getting a position at WGBH in Boston. It's now a PBS station but when she joined it was part of National Educational Television (Bergan Evans and Sunrise Semester - Julia Child's first cooking show.) In those early days Masterpiece Theatre had no competition from other television stations (there were only three other television stations for one thing) and there were shelves of BBC productions to choose from when she went to England to acquire costume dramas.

And there was rock solid financing. Mobile Oil sponsored the program for many long years until the leadership at Mobile changed, the company was acquired by Exxon, and eventually it was felt Exxon-Mobile was not getting its money's worth from what it increasingly saw as musty old programming.

Now that Downton Abbey is the most viewed television drama in broadcast history I wonder if Mobile is second-guessing their decision to drop the show. For years I bought gas at Mobile stations because of Masterpiece Theatre, now re-branded (ugh) simply as Masterpiece.

Eaton takes us through the wonderful years when dinner party invitations were declined and phones were left off the hook on Sunday nights at nine as we all watched Alistair Cooke (or Russell Baker or Diana Rigg) introduce I, Claudius or Upstairs, Downstairs or The Jewel in the Crown. And of course some of us remember Monsterpiece Theatre with Alistaire Cookie.
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3

Apr 19, 2014

As a Masterpiece Theatre junkie, you would think this book is right up my alley. However, the thing I like about Masterpiece (especially the Masterpiece of the last few years) is that it’s usually very well done, from the writing to the scenery, the filming to the acting. The British accents might help with this a little. While this book is about how all of that gets put together, this book felt very much like a rough draft. There were large portions that felt like they were cut and pasted As a Masterpiece Theatre junkie, you would think this book is right up my alley. However, the thing I like about Masterpiece (especially the Masterpiece of the last few years) is that it’s usually very well done, from the writing to the scenery, the filming to the acting. The British accents might help with this a little. While this book is about how all of that gets put together, this book felt very much like a rough draft. There were large portions that felt like they were cut and pasted directly from lengthy email conversations with different Masterpiece employees. In all, I liked the tidbits I learned about one of my favorite shows. I just wish the book was as polished as the show is. ...more
4

Oct 02, 2019

As a lifetime fan of Masterpiece Theatre, I happily read memoirs of the producer who oversaw 25years of the show from its inception. My love of things British was born from this show, and led to my eventual marriage to a man who combines the high cheekbone gorgeousness I fell for with thE peculiar good mannered reserve that I came to love while watching all those period dramas. One gets the sense that Rebecca Eaton has put her foot in her mouth many times, and has been as awed by British acting As a lifetime fan of Masterpiece Theatre, I happily read memoirs of the producer who oversaw 25years of the show from its inception. My love of things British was born from this show, and led to my eventual marriage to a man who combines the high cheekbone gorgeousness I fell for with thE peculiar good mannered reserve that I came to love while watching all those period dramas. One gets the sense that Rebecca Eaton has put her foot in her mouth many times, and has been as awed by British acting brilliance as any viewer, and may have been a challenge to work with. she had her own sorrows and sacrificed much for her job, and I respect her self awareness. And humanity. ...more
3

Nov 01, 2013

It's not a good sign when reading a memoir makes you like the person who wrote it less. I had thought that I'd find a kindred spirit in Rebecca Eaton since she's produced so much television that I've adored, but there was something about how she wrote about it that made me feel like we weren't on the same page. I really liked learning background details of how Masterpiece Theater came to be, but I was disappointed that she wrote so disparagingly of films she produced in the 90s, since that was It's not a good sign when reading a memoir makes you like the person who wrote it less. I had thought that I'd find a kindred spirit in Rebecca Eaton since she's produced so much television that I've adored, but there was something about how she wrote about it that made me feel like we weren't on the same page. I really liked learning background details of how Masterpiece Theater came to be, but I was disappointed that she wrote so disparagingly of films she produced in the 90s, since that was when I started watching and have the happiest memories of Sunday night viewing with my mom. And I felt that she gave way too much space to Downton Abbey (three whole chapters!) at the expense of many other (more) worthy shows.

If you're a fan of Masterpiece, there's enough here to make it worth reading, but the writing isn't terribly coherent and there's a lot of repetition. Don't expect too much. ...more
4

Mar 26, 2014

Very interesting book inside the Masterpiece workings. There is so much behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into a production it is mind boggling. The author gives a pretty good picture of how all this works, and the outcome would either be good for the station, or reflect a poor choice.

When Masterpiece switched over to a more contemporary feel, it wasn't just a whim. Apparently those costume dramas were 'out of style', hence a new approach and look was needed to keep it alive. Unfortunately, they Very interesting book inside the Masterpiece workings. There is so much behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into a production it is mind boggling. The author gives a pretty good picture of how all this works, and the outcome would either be good for the station, or reflect a poor choice.

When Masterpiece switched over to a more contemporary feel, it wasn't just a whim. Apparently those costume dramas were 'out of style', hence a new approach and look was needed to keep it alive. Unfortunately, they lost me at that point but that move saved the show. I can't imagine Masterpiece Theatre NOT being broadcast anymore!

I watched this show almost from the get-go and am so glad that I read this book. While I enjoyed most, I found some of the financial stuff a bit on the dry side.

And, yes I do remember The Blue Boy (if you've read this book, you'll know what I'm talking about)!

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2

Sep 15, 2014

So you like Downton Abbey or Sherlock. Maybe even Call the Midwife, if you’re a bit sleepy and don’t mind the pacing. But what about Rebecca Eaton? Do you know who she is, or what her relationship is to these new but instant classics for anglophiles in America? If you’re like me and enjoy figuring out how things work––after all, I did watch every single extra feature in my boxed set extended edition Lord of the Rings DVDs––then there’s a dash of built-in appeal to a book like Eaton’s Making

So you like Downton Abbey or Sherlock.  Maybe even Call the Midwife, if you’re a bit sleepy and don’t mind the pacing.  But what about Rebecca Eaton?  Do you know who she is, or what her relationship is to these new but instant classics for anglophiles in America?  If you’re like me and enjoy figuring out how things work––after all, I did watch every single extra feature in my boxed set extended edition Lord of the Rings  DVDs––then there’s a dash of built-in appeal to a book like Eaton’s Making Masterpiece, ostensibly a book about how she, as executive producer for both Masterpiece Classic and Mystery! somehow ... well ... made the shows happen.  And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to read about real-life interactions with stars like Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Kenneth Brannagh, Emma Thompson, and Maggie Smith?

The truth of the matter, as revealed in Eaton’s book, is far less glamorous.  I might even add, with a touch of hesitation, that it’s far more boring than it should be.

Eaton’s book suffers from two fatal flaws, both of which stem from one gargantuan root cause: a misunderstanding of what a good nonfiction book actually is.  The flaws, as I see them, are actually clumps of finer problems, gathered loosely into the categories of ‘jumbled content’ and ‘slapdash framing.’  It doesn’t particularly help that Eaton knows of these flaws, and actually draws attention to them in her introduction and repeatedly throughout the book itself.  

It’s not as though the book doesn’t have potential.  I love a good snippet of green-room gossip and hand-wringing over money troubles as much as the next romantic sap, but I don’t find that there’s much more going on here.  The book never pulls together, so to speak.  I found it impossible to know what was coming next, chronologically, or even to look back and understand what had happened in the previous chapter.  Information, tidbits of stories––they just come at the reader from all angles, launched willy-nilly into the unknown in some sort of continuous stream-of-consciousness infodump.  Is this a book about Eaton’s difficulties juggling work and family?  Or is it about her difficulties raising money for Masterpiece?  And where will we find any sort of reflection on the actual shows that have launched Masterpiece’s ratings in the last few years?  Eaton surely doesn’t seem to know.  

It’s unforgivable, in my mind, that someone so conscious of a book’s organizational difficulties should not seek out a stronger editorial hand.  That’s what editors are for.  I do get a sense that Eaton is one of those micromanaging control freaks, which seems from several stories to have contributed to her many other woes.  Put simply, the book lacks focus, both in form and content. 

Maybe I’m just upset because I picked up this book wanting to read about Downton Abbey and Sherlock––and I don’t particularly care about the hazy technical details of when this or that no-longer-famous actor swapped out introductory comments with this or that slightly-more-famous actor.  There’s so much meat to the background of the show that doesn’t get any sort of deliberation at all: Where’s the inquiry into the dubious relationship between art and economy as prompted by Masterpiece’s longstanding funding partner, that monstrous soul-sucking environmental tragedy known as Mobil Oil?!  Eaton never once questions it.  (Maybe she’s afraid of a legal suit?)  The fact that Mobil pulled Masterpiece’s funding when it no longer deemed the program to be lending the company a veneer of credibility says something awesomely interesting about our world.  And yet it’s never once engaged.  

My general response to this book was one of equal parts boredom and eye-rolling distaste.  As a writer myself, I look for a story with rock-solid architecture that holds together under scrutiny.  Strike one.  As a reader, I look for readability and likable characters.  Strike two.  And lastly, as a feminist and social justice advocate, I look for a book that engages with the deep questions about why things happen, and how the world we live in comes to exist the way it does.  Strike three.  If Rebecca Eaton had written this book as a series of blog posts, it would have struck a different chord, and perhaps a more fitting one.  As it is, she delivers a book only partially-formed, and moth-eaten along the binding, to a readership that hungers for substance.  I can’t help but feel this was an opportunity missed.


[ for more of my reviews, visit Fatal Shore Reviews ]

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4

Oct 26, 2013

This Goodreads first-reads is both Rebecca Eaton's autobiography and the 25 yr. history of the PBS Masterpiece and Mystery series. It is also a fascinating look at the people involved with PBS productions and what it takes to bring a successful program such as Downton Abbey into our homes.

Beginning with the ground-breaking "Forsythe Saga", which aired on National Educational Television (NET), the inspiration for the future Masterpiece Theatre series,and the ending with the production of This Goodreads first-reads is both Rebecca Eaton's autobiography and the 25 yr. history of the PBS Masterpiece and Mystery series. It is also a fascinating look at the people involved with PBS productions and what it takes to bring a successful program such as Downton Abbey into our homes.

Beginning with the ground-breaking "Forsythe Saga", which aired on National Educational Television (NET), the inspiration for the future Masterpiece Theatre series,and the ending with the production of "Sherlock" and "Downton Abbey", this history is told through interviews with the important players, the writers, producers, and actors, and is peppered with personal anecdotes.

I read this book in short "breaks" with a cup of coffee and a plate of "biscuits", and savored every moment, much as I do when I go out for coffee with a dear friend or family member. I loved "hearing" about Eaton's background and experiences, challenges, highs and lows; the delicious tidbits such as how Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branaugh were so in love; and the image of beautiful, elegant Diana Riggs with a chaotic house full of children and pets during an important telephone call, as well as how Eaton passed on Pride and Prejudice and regretted it for years afterward; how social media is affecting the way we watch tv; and about Julian Fellowes' writing process.

Definitely a read again and as my copy is an advance uncorrected proofs, I am looking forward to the recently published version with photos.

Thank you Goodreads and Viking! ...more
2

Oct 27, 2013

Making Masterpiece by Rebecca Eaton is a free Goodreads advance reader copy of a book I began reading on Halloween 2013 while on the city bus to school. Having already whet my whistle with a biography on English domestic service between the 1910s-1940s with Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor, I was looking forward to reading about British lit drama on television, as told by an American producer.

When Rebecca Eaton states at the very beginning of this book that she's writing this book Making Masterpiece by Rebecca Eaton is a free Goodreads advance reader copy of a book I began reading on Halloween 2013 while on the city bus to school. Having already whet my whistle with a biography on English domestic service between the 1910s-1940s with Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor, I was looking forward to reading about British lit drama on television, as told by an American producer.

When Rebecca Eaton states at the very beginning of this book that she's writing this book sporatically and with a certain amount of anxiety/reluctance before she retires in a cottage in Maine, it's very easy to see the flaws in the hasty, storyboard-style, jotted on the Post-It note or cocktail napkin way that she writes. The thread of the book runs erratically back and forth through time, her personal life, her time on the set of Masterpiece productions, actor and production team interviews that alternatingly praise her and toot their own horn, and a whole lot of could've/would'ves. Overall, it's a good read for people who have a tie with the subject material, but be aware of Eaton's stop and start tone being as jarring as someone in the passenger seat with a student driver learning stick-shift. ...more
5

Jun 08, 2014

I loved this book so much I am sorry I've finished it! I loved the backstage feel of it...the insider's look at one of my all-time favorite forms of entertainment, Masterpiece Theatre...and I learned a lot about the challenges of producing high quality public television, too. Reading this book brought back many happy memories of watching Sunday night TV with my late mom. Mom introduced me to Masterpiece as a kid and I have been a fan ever since. I also learned of many shows I either didn't know I loved this book so much I am sorry I've finished it! I loved the backstage feel of it...the insider's look at one of my all-time favorite forms of entertainment, Masterpiece Theatre...and I learned a lot about the challenges of producing high quality public television, too. Reading this book brought back many happy memories of watching Sunday night TV with my late mom. Mom introduced me to Masterpiece as a kid and I have been a fan ever since. I also learned of many shows I either didn't know about or had simply breezed past over the years. I've watched two of them since picking up this book and appreciate learning of them. If you are a fan of Masterpiece and/or you are a committed lifelong Anglophile like I am, pretty sure you will enjoy this book! ...more
4

Dec 07, 2013

Really enjoyed this book! Rebecca Eaton is a Vassar Alum, and when she came in to sign her books, I couldn't have been *more* of a fangirl! It was great to chat with her and I was more excited than if a movie start had shown up. I most enjoyed reading about the Masterpiece shows that I know best, and how the different hosts found their way into the roles. I was also shocked to realize that there are so many hit shows of which I've never even heard. I have a lot of work to do! The only part of Really enjoyed this book! Rebecca Eaton is a Vassar Alum, and when she came in to sign her books, I couldn't have been *more* of a fangirl! It was great to chat with her and I was more excited than if a movie start had shown up. I most enjoyed reading about the Masterpiece shows that I know best, and how the different hosts found their way into the roles. I was also shocked to realize that there are so many hit shows of which I've never even heard. I have a lot of work to do! The only part of the book I didn't enjoy was the bit about Downton Abbey. I like the show, but it is not my favorite in the Masterpiece catalogue, and I would have liked more time spent on the Mystery titles. Obviously I have to own this! ...more
4

Apr 14, 2013

Thank you very much to Goodreads and Penguin Canada for this giveaway - I loved it! As soon as I saw the listing for this book I couldn't wait to read it. I've enjoyed Masterpiece (Theatre) since I was a teenager and knew this would be a great read. I had very little idea what a tv producer actually did and I found it very interesting to learn about the many facets of Ms. Eaton's job. Loved the parts about Alistair Cooke, Cranford and of course, Downton Abbey. A must read for every Masterpiece Thank you very much to Goodreads and Penguin Canada for this giveaway - I loved it! As soon as I saw the listing for this book I couldn't wait to read it. I've enjoyed Masterpiece (Theatre) since I was a teenager and knew this would be a great read. I had very little idea what a tv producer actually did and I found it very interesting to learn about the many facets of Ms. Eaton's job. Loved the parts about Alistair Cooke, Cranford and of course, Downton Abbey. A must read for every Masterpiece (and Mystery) fan.
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4

Mar 23, 2014

This was so interesting. Only in the last five years or so have my husband and I become avid Masterpiece watchers, now rarely missing an episode. Oh how I wish I had been interested in the 1990s and early 2000s as there some wonderful shows then as well. Rebecca Easton's focus was on the making of Masterpiece and only lightly touches on her personal life throughout the book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
3

Oct 21, 2013

I was a loyal Masterpiece fan for many years. I haven't found most of their recent presentations very compelling - not even Downtown Abbey - but this book is full of interesting anecdotes about many of my old favorites.

If you're a fan, then I'd say that this is worth reading. It's a pretty easy read.
4

Oct 18, 2018

If you enjoy Masterpiece and if you are the type who watches all the behind the scenes features, this is a great book for you! This book felt like sitting down and having coffee on a regular basis with Rebecca Eaton - she shares much of her background and many entertaining stories about her experiences and what it takes to make a successful Masterpiece production. I find myself using what I learned from this book to give me more context and appreciation as I enjoy other media- there is a If you enjoy Masterpiece and if you are the type who watches all the behind the scenes features, this is a great book for you! This book felt like sitting down and having coffee on a regular basis with Rebecca Eaton - she shares much of her background and many entertaining stories about her experiences and what it takes to make a successful Masterpiece production. I find myself using what I learned from this book to give me more context and appreciation as I enjoy other media- there is a tremendous amount of work and faith that goes into these productions. Rebecca Eaton's book gives your a glimpse into her world - warts and all. A casual and informative read! ...more
4

Mar 19, 2019

This was a fine memoir. I enjoyed the overlay of Eaton's personal stories with that of the programs and opportunities of Masterpiece. I learned some fun facts about Downton Abbey, which was my original interest in the book. I found through reading though that I was familiar with and/or own many of the programs that Masterpiece has produced through the years. I'm a much more enthusiastic supporter of Masterpiece after reading this book.
4

Oct 15, 2017

I greatly enjoyed this book - having grown up watching PBS. My sister and I loved the Mystery intro. created by Edward Gorey! Rebecca Eaton's backstory on Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery was a quick, engaging read.
5

Oct 25, 2013

I first began watching Masterpiece, the acclaimed PBS series, when I was nineteen, precisely the year when PBS and WGBH were rebranding the series from the famous Masterpiece Theatre to the sleeker, more modern Masterpiece and its three chapters: Masterpiece Classic, Masterpiece Mystery!, and Masterpiece Contemporary. Having recently finished all of Jane Austen’s novels, as well as being an aspiring Anglophile and burgeoning costume drama devotee, I was hooked on the prospect of the upcoming I first began watching Masterpiece, the acclaimed PBS series, when I was nineteen, precisely the year when PBS and WGBH were rebranding the series from the famous Masterpiece Theatre to the sleeker, more modern Masterpiece and its three chapters: Masterpiece Classic, Masterpiece Mystery!, and Masterpiece Contemporary. Having recently finished all of Jane Austen’s novels, as well as being an aspiring Anglophile and burgeoning costume drama devotee, I was hooked on the prospect of the upcoming Complete Jane Austen, the collection of adaptations Masterpiece would be airing which covered each of Austen’s finished novels. I watched, I fell in love with Masterpiece, and I stayed with it in complete dedication – through Inspector Lewis and Cranford to Little Dorrit and Zen; of course to Downton Abbey and Sherlock, all the way to Mr. Selfridge, Silk, and The Paradise. I instantly connected with Masterpiece as an outlet for both my Anglophilia and my fascination with seeing history – especially that of the literary variety – captured on the screen, and I grew to greatly admire the lady behind the curtain on my side of the Atlantic: Masterpiece’s executive producer, Rebecca Eaton. Needless to say, when I realized she had written a book, Making Masterpiece, about the beloved Masterpiece Theatre and its original sister program Mystery!, I was understandably ecstatic.

Although the book is subtitled 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! On PBS, Eaton goes above and beyond this premise to give viewers a detailed journey through the history of Masterpiece even before she took over as the third executive producer. Enlisting the help of colleagues and friends involved in the series, Eaton takes on the role of a journalist, piecing together the story of a series that continues to change the course of television. She starts off with the first blockbuster program of the ‘70s, before Masterpiece was Masterpiece and before PBS was even PBS: the original Forsyte Saga. She then walks us through the diverse and equally groundbreaking dramas that continued to build up Masterpiece and Mystery alike: Upstairs, Downstairs and The Jewel in the Crown, Inspector Morse and Agatha Christie’s Poitot, Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes and Helen Mirren’s Prime Suspect, and so on. She tells us all about Alistair Cooke, the original and most iconic Masterpiece host, about the history of the show’s sponsorships, her experiences traveling to London to work with her co-producers at the BBC, later being photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair, and she even filters in relevant stories from her personal life along the way. With interludes from the likes of former WGBH president Henry Becton, Downton creator Julian Fellowes, and luminaries like Dame Eileen Atkins, Elizabeth McGovern, and Kenneth Branagh, Making Masterpiece has a way of reflecting Eaton’s appreciation for the sort of group effort that goes into making television magic happen.

Her narrative is just charming. Unassuming, genuine and kind, Eaton shows her stripes as her reader’s comrade in Anglophilia, paying homage to the history of the beloved Masterpiece series with respect, detail, and excitement. Her enthusiasm over the show’s programming is infectious, and her asides about her personal encounters with her own British heroes are delightful, smile-inducing glimpses for the reader as well. There were so many insights here that I’m grateful for: getting to experience the pieces of Masterpiece’s history that I wasn’t part of, such as Upstairs, Downstairs, as well as the chance to know about some of the stories that don’t make it to PBS primetime. Her account of a doomed attempt to produce a drama with Robin Williams playing Mark Twain was especially exciting, and I made a note of the book Eaton was inspired by (Mark and Livy by Resa Willis) so I can hopefully read it and imagine the miniseries-that-never-was. Little nuances like this are what make Making Masterpiece a timeless experience for fans of the series, whether they’re longtime devotees or new arrivals with the popularity of Downton Abbey and Sherlock.

Eaton, who seems to have remained a rather private presence at the helm of Masterpiece, reveals herself with grace and attentiveness, and a good deal of humility. She’s an admirable woman who does a remarkable job; I loved the way she could laugh at herself – admitting to blunders in her career – and also talk seriously about the personal triumphs and struggles of her life, from her relationship with her parents to her unfulfilled dreams of a big family. She sings the praises of her only daughter Katharine with charm and eloquence; much as she sings the praises of the countless friends, colleagues, supporters, and valiant workers who have all played pivotal roles in the drama of Masterpiece’s history. She writes with detail and plenty of heart, inviting the reader into both a cozy conversation and a rich journey through the history of a cultural phenomenon.

(Review © Casee Marie, originally published on December 3, 2013 at LiteraryInklings.com. Book won via Goodreads First Reads giveaway.) ...more
4

Dec 05, 2013

Whenever I pick up a history, memoir or biography, the first thing I do is look at the pictures. Naturally, that's what I did when I got home from the library with Making Masterpiece. I was puzzled, because the first photos in the book are of the author as a young girl. I thought this was a book about producing PBS's Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! series, not about the author's life. It turns out that it's both and it also turns out that's mostly a good thing.

Those of us of a certain age Whenever I pick up a history, memoir or biography, the first thing I do is look at the pictures. Naturally, that's what I did when I got home from the library with Making Masterpiece. I was puzzled, because the first photos in the book are of the author as a young girl. I thought this was a book about producing PBS's Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! series, not about the author's life. It turns out that it's both and it also turns out that's mostly a good thing.

Those of us of a certain age remember Masterpiece Theatre's first big hit from 1974: Upstairs, Downstairs. Rebecca Eaton was just starting her public television career then. An English literature major from Vassar College, she'd done an internship at the BBC and then landed her first real job at PBS affiliate WGBH in Boston. When Masterpiece Theatre's original executive producer, Joan Wilson, died, Rebecca Eaton stepped into her shoes, taking responsibility for both Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! It was a daunting assignment for Eaton, who hadn't ever understood the appeal of mysteries, who had just discovered she and relatively new husband Paul were expecting a baby, and who felt she didn't have nearly enough experience to take over from Wilson.

Eaton is very frank about her failures, like having to be talked into Prime Suspect and turning down the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice miniseries because Masterpiece Theatre had shown a version years earlier. She even discloses that she had a run-in with contacts at Mobil Oil, Masterpiece Theatre's sole sponsor, about editorial influence, and Mobil insisted that PBS fire her. She wasn't fired, but she was put on probation and told she very much needed to work on her people skills. I don't think I'd want to confess something like that, so I had to admire Eaton's openness. Eaton is also open about the difficulty of balancing work and home life; the toll it took in missed time with her daughter, miscarriages, her marriage.

But Eaton doesn't skimp on the story of Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! in favor of her own personal story. She tells us the story of how the original production team's mission was to bring British costume drama to a US audience, starting by importing already-produced miniseries from the BBC. She takes us along for the lengthy trips to London and meetings with British producers, writers, directors and actors (sometimes boozy ones) to choose productions and, in later years, to decide on coproductions.

Eaton also takes us into the nuts-and-bolts world of production by describing at length how the programs Cranford and Downton Abbey came about. It's a frustrating, exciting, tedious, nerve-wracking and, occasionally, thrillingly rewarding process.

"But what about the shows and the actors?" I hear you wondering. The book doesn't disappoint there. Eaton breezily recounts story after story about Helen Mirren, Jean Marsh, Maggie Smith, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Radcliffe, and the entire Downton Abbey cast.

Eaton has such enormous respect for British actors; their devotion to the work, flexibility and lack of star attitude. She has a particularly heartfelt regard for Alistair Cooke, the first and most-beloved host of Masterpiece Theatre, and other hosts of Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery!, including Vincent Price, Russell Baker, Diana Rigg, Gillian Anderson, Laura Linney and Alan Cumming.

Once cable TV came on the scene, soon after Eaton became executive producer, the mission of Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! became much more challenging. Mobil felt it less and less necessary to spend millions as patrons of the arts and PBS didn't increase funding. HBO, Showtime and other far better-funded outlets began to compete with PBS for British product. And now, in the era of hundreds of TV stations, live streaming video, and so much competition for the consumer's entertainment dollars, Rebecca Eaton keeps on trying to find those dramas and mysteries that will keep viewers tuning in week after week.

While it wasn't quite what I expected, Making Masterpiece ends up being a fascinating story of how what is now called Masterpiece (Classic, Contemporary and Mystery) is produced, yummy gossipy bits about actors we're all familiar with, and clear-eyed confession of the personal costs to a woman of having a demanding job over the last quarter century. ...more
2

Oct 12, 2013

This book was received through GR First Reads giveaway program.

I was disappointed, although this is due more to my expectations than to the book itself. I had expected a coffee table book about the program, more like Masterpieces: A Decade of Masterpiece Theatre or Masterpiece Theatre: A Celebration of 25 Years of Outstanding Television. This book is a memoir by Rebecca Eaton about her life and her job as executive producer for the program.
Also, the copy that I received is a paperback copy This book was received through GR First Reads giveaway program.

I was disappointed, although this is due more to my expectations than to the book itself. I had expected a coffee table book about the program, more like Masterpieces: A Decade of Masterpiece Theatre or Masterpiece Theatre: A Celebration of 25 Years of Outstanding Television. This book is a memoir by Rebecca Eaton about her life and her job as executive producer for the program.
Also, the copy that I received is a paperback copy clearly marked as Advanced Uncorrected Proofs, which means it is missing any pictures that are probably in the published version and it is missing an index which this verion says will be added. The Giveaway listing clearly states "Galley Proofs", so I shouldn't have been surprised.

Note: A separate edition has been set up for the paperback ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) which was received. If any other winner has a scanner and can provide a copy of the ARC cover (with the yellow circle that makes it different from the hardcover), please post it on this thread in the GR Librarians Group.

Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS bounces back and forth between personal memories and experiences on the one hand and history of the show on the other. Sometimes the jump made sense; other times it was jarring. (view spoiler)[ Eaton devotes a great deal of time discussing how supportive her husband was, including most of the childcare for their young daughter while she travelled to England as part of the job. But the epilogue, coming after several chapters about current programming, mentions that they have divorced. I am not someone who really cares about celebrities' personal lives, but it was jarring because of the earlier sections which were glowing accounts of her husband and then no further mention until that. (hide spoiler)] Either she should have stayed with her personal story, or consistently left it in the background.

Although I am a regular watcher of Masterpiece Theatre, Eaton's artistic preferences don't jibe with mine. She gives glowing descriptions of Cranford and Bleak House, both of which were series that I gave up on. On the other hand, she didn't mention Shoulder to Shoulder or the Sharpe series, which are among my favorites.

Some gems that I really appreciated:
Despite Alistair Cooke's long association with the series, he never signed a contract for more than one year at a time.
Although journalists and reviewers picked up on the re-branded name Masterpiece, viewers still call it Masterpiece Theatre. Eaton adds that she sympathizes, since she still thinks of The PBS News Hour as The MacNeil-Lehrer Report.
Julian Fellowes, writer of Downton Abbey was made a member of the House of Lords in 2011.

Rating of two stars is using Goodreads description: It was OK.
The book wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I wanted. ...more
5

Oct 12, 2013

Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS was a fascinating read. On the one hand, Eaton's breezy style makes you feel as though you're seated in comfy chairs in front of the fire with her while she regales you with clever anecdotes of her extreme good fortune and very very hard work as Executive Producer of Masterpiece Theatre. On the other hand, she provides loads of context, background, and insights into the world of public television, its Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS was a fascinating read. On the one hand, Eaton's breezy style makes you feel as though you're seated in comfy chairs in front of the fire with her while she regales you with clever anecdotes of her extreme good fortune and very very hard work as Executive Producer of Masterpiece Theatre. On the other hand, she provides loads of context, background, and insights into the world of public television, its financing challenges, and a great deal of behind-the-scenes logistics of where such shows come from and how they relate to the evolution of television and social media, sociopolitics and the wider economy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Whether you grew up on these programs or not, and anyone who did will revel in Eaton's stories about Alistair Cooke and others who were household names, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in how such programming works and how certain aspects of public broadcasting in the U.S. differ markedly from, yet remain heavily dependent upon, program development in the U.K. There are fascinating comparison/contrasts between American and English actors' attitudes regarding stage/film vs. television performance and a host of other fascinating topics. Eaton was, in my estimation, far too kind regarding the problem of pirating among younger fans--as it is truly a long-term problem that isn't going to go away but threatens the very fabric of member-supported public television.

I read an advanced reader's copy of uncorrected proofs, so imagine that the following observations will be addressed before widespread distribution. The image quality in my copy was extremely poor and I suspect that a good many images that appear in the final version weren't included here (based on a comment on the back cover regarding "photos taken with her own [Eaton's] camera") so there was a bit of a disconnect in that regard. Likewise, a final edit will standardize how people are referred to (e.g., Alistair Cooke's daughter is sometimes identified as Susan and other times more familiarly as Susie), as well as repeat words, missing letter spaces between words and other readily-rectified typographical errors. I won this book on the Goodreads "First Reads" program and am very appreciative for having done so. I'd honestly say that thus far, this is the best book I've read for 2013. (And as I'm close to my 100 book goal for the year, that's saying something.)

In closing, I want to stress what a fun read this is. It's more a biography of Masterpiece (as the program was rebranded in 2008) than of Eaton, but she inserts her own experiences--including coups, failures, miraculously-saved near-misses (most notably her "passing" on Downton Abbey when it was first offered her), as well as personal details while being extremely respectful of her family's privacy. One of the things I most appreciated about Eaton's account was the candid detailing of how extremely hard she and her colleagues work, the sacrifices they have all made, and the sheer joy they experience in their work. Eaton mentions her aspiration to have done "work that matters." By book's end, which most fortunately does not usher in her retirement (which I had initially feared), we are left with a woman who continues to learn, tackle new challenges competently, and is mindful she'll make a good many errors along the way but it will all get sorted in the end. Now, I just need to catch up to the interview she did recently on NPR's Diane Rehm show. ...more

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