This weekend, as snow came down in Connecticut and I anticipated the start of Season Four of Downton Abbey, seemed the right time to read Rebecca Eaton’s Making Masterpiece (Viking), her entertaining saga of guiding Masterpiece—which, with a nod to its British inflection and contributors, was long known as Masterpiece Theatre, and continues to be television’s classiest and longest-running drama programming. After 28 years as the executive producer of the series, Eaton has delivered a memoir that is as full of twists of plot and characters as its scores of memorable adaptions from novels, biographies, and original narratives.
After a fellowship at the BBC in 1969, which was instrumental in shaping her deep appreciation of Britain’s dramatic artistry, Eaton landed at Boston’s public-broadcasting channel WGBH and was eventually recruited to Masterpiece, which was then funded by Mobil Oil. An early patron of the enterprise was Mobil’s colorful public-relations chief, Herb Schmertz, whose goal was to associate the oil company with this special series, which he astutely understood would give “big petroleum” an aura of sophisticated benevolence.
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