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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book review: Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS by Rebecca Eaton with Patricia Mulcahy

Watching Masterpiece Theatre (and Mystery!) with my mother is one of my fondest childhood memories. She'd let me stay up past my bedtime, watch things that were a little racier than usual (on occasion), and it helped me branch out in my reading, introducing me to James Herriott, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie. I was one of very few children who truly got the joke when "Alistair Cookie" introduced "Me Claudius" on Sesame Street.

Ms. Eaton was not in on MP from the very beginning, but she did go back to the originators and got their story of the birth of the show, which was with the airing of The Forsyte Saga in the 1970s (I was surprised there was no mention at all of the new production from the early 2000s, even if it wasn't on MP.) But she was there for the spinning-off of Mystery! and through all of the hosts and all the decisions of where to go, how to address issues like censorship and differing morays, and the celebrities. The multiple relaunchings in the last few years had me worried about the future of a beloved show, but after hearing her explanations for the different names and different hosts, it makes sense. I am lucky enough to live in an area where I have three different PBS stations so I have my choice of times and dates to catch shows. After reading this, I am even eager to go back and watch some that I've skipped like Call the Midwife and Cranford.

While the book is 90% about the show, it is also a memoir and does dip into her private life from time to time. I was dismayed that her divorce was really glossed over but I can understand her not wanting to air dirty laundry which is also fairly off-topic. The book reads very conversationally, as if you were having a glass of wine with Rebecca and she were just telling you all about her job and how she got started and how she went from there. It felt snug and comfortable, like a wool sweater, which is exactly the right tone for a book about Masterpiece Theatre. I hope it continues forever!

I won this book in a giveaway in the Women's National Book Association newsletter, sponsored by the publisher.

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