On a wintry night in 1971, Masterpiece Theatre debuted on PBS. Fifty years later, America’s appetite for British drama has never been bigger. The classic television program has brought its fans protagonists such as The Dowager Countess and Ross Poldark and series that include Downton Abbey and Prime Suspect.
In Masterpiece: America's 50-Year-Old Love Affair with British Television Drama, Nancy West provides a fascinating history of the acclaimed program. West combines excerpts from original interviews, thoughtful commentary, and lush photography to deliver a deep exploration of the television drama. Vibrant stories and anecdotes about Masterpiece’s most colorful shows are peppered throughout, such as why Benedict Cumberbatch hates Downton Abbey and how screenwriter Daisy Goodwin created a teenage portrait of Queen Victoria after fighting with her daughter about homework.
Featuring an array of color photos from Masterpiece’s best-loved dramas, this book offers a penetrating look into the program’s influence on television, publishing, fashion, and its millions of fans.
Nancy West is professor of English at the University of Missouri. She is the author of Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000) and Tabloid, Inc.: Crimes, News, Narratives (2010).West’s books have earned her appearances on PBS’s The American Experience and the BBC’s The Genius of Photography as well as keynote talks at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the London School of Design, and the Amon Carter Museum. She is a regular contributor to Written By magazine, The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Los Angeles Review of Books.
A comprehensive guide to and assessment of Masterpiece Theatre (now simply called Masterpiece), PBS’s award-winning anthology program that began in 1971 with The First Churchills; a recent high point was the tremendously successful Downton Abbey. The crime series Mystery! followed nine years later, and though both were unapologetically British in content, they resonated with American audiences. Why? According to West, Americans yearn for tradition. She analyzes the impact of the programs, considers Alistair Cooke’s contributions . . . and explores politics and culture, such as race and color-conscious casting as well as the funding challenges PBS has faced. The author includes a “travel guide” to the shooting locations in case fans want to make the pilgrimage and delves into each series . . .with lots of juicy bits for celebrity mavens. But this is no gossipy tell-all or mere coffee-table book; with trenchant analysis, extensive notes, and a lengthy bibliography, this is a scholarly look at two series that had great influence on the American psyche and put PBS on the map. The definitive guide for scholars and fans alike to all things Masterpiece and Mystery!
West takes a thoughtful look at the series in nine thematically organized chapters that address Masterpiece’s origins, appeal, politics, culture, and more. She devotes an entire chapter to the phenomena of Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey and celebrates the most popular series and performers. West expounds on what she calls “the five cornerstones of Masterpiece’s appeal: aspiration, nostalgia, Anglophilia, conventionality, and sentimentality” and concludes with lists of Masterpiece and Mystery! productions and casts along with a generous bibliography of academic and popular sources. For Masterpiece and Mystery! fans and anyone who wonders what all the fuss is about.
11/30/20: Period drama blog Willow and Thatch included book in their “Period Drama Holiday Gift Guide 2020.”