Not Your Grandmother's Masterpiece Theatre

Not Your Grandmother's Masterpiece Theatre

I attended graduate school at a state university located in a fairly rural town. By the time I starting working on my thesis, most of my college friends from undergrad and even grad school had moved on. So, I was left on my own grasping for things to do in such as small town. 

Although I had a nice apartment with a nice television, I could not afford cable. As a result, my television entertainment consisted mostly of DVD’s and shows that aired on the two stations that I did get reception for: CBS and PBS. At the time, CBS didn’t have the line-up like it does now, so I found myself watching a lot of PBS. In fact, I watched PBS so much that I began to look forward to my favorite “shows” each week, particularly Masterpiece Theatre. Now, before you roll your eyes or, worse, avert  your attention, I was not always a fan of Masterpiece.

Jane Austen's "Emma" on PBS. Image from PBS Web site.

When I was a little girl, I associated PBS solely with Masterpiece Theatre. Back then, I didn’t appreciate the amazing adaptations that brought classic novels to life. I always thought of Masterpiece Theatre my mother’s or grandmother’s show, where a stodgy old Englishman was the host. I dreaded Sunday night’s when I had to choose between going to bed early or watching a dry British documentary or drama on PBS. Eventually and quite thankfully, I began to appreciate these educational shows.

Oh, Anne

In fact, watching PBS first opened my eyes to the Anne of Green Gables series with Megan Follows, one of my absolute favorites! Who could forget Follows’ portrayal of the Canadian red-headed, strong-willed, hopelessly romantic Anne (that’s Anne with an e). She left my sisters and I – and many girls our age – wishing we could live on Prince Edward Island. And Anne left me with more, the dream of wanting to be a writer.

The Changing Masterpiece

Oh, how times have changed! I still love writing, but the idea of wanting to reside on a cold and windy, albeit beautiful, Nova Scotia island, has since withered like Queen Anne’s lace. But, one thing that definitely hasn’t changed is my affection for PBS and Masterpiece Theatre. I, like most Americans with a television, now have cable. Not Direct TV, satellite TV, or the DISH, just basic cable. But this, my friends, is completely enough. In addition to not having time to watch television, I feel that as long as I have the basics, including PBS, I am good as gold.

Thankfully, as I have changed, so have PBS and Masterpiece Theatre. As I mentioned, In the old days, British gent George Plimpton was the host of the show. He would come on in your typical tweed jacket and be sitting in front of a bookcase in the quintessential British library, each time to introduce old British or European classics that were hard for me to understand. In 2008, the show introduced a new look and three separate Masterpiece entities, Masterpiece Classic, Masterpiece Mystery, and Masterpiece Contemporary, each with a different focus and different hosts.

The British Greats

Although Anne of Green Gables may be played on occasion, such as during fundraising events, now Masterpiece Theatre (or Masterpiece Classic as it’s now called) showcases updated broadcast versions of beloved novels by Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and more. I was much more familiar with these authors having read their works in high school and college. And the actors in these films are truly amazing. Who can honestly get enough of Dame Judi Dench and Colin Firth?

Plus, there’s something very sophisticated and romantic about these Masterpiece movies. Whenever I watch Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield, I’m transported to a different time, a different country – a different world – without leaving my home, even if it is just for a few hours. And for someone who loves England and Europe as much as I do, living the European life vicariously through televised novels is a welcomed treat.

If you are a lover of Masterpiece movies, I’m sure you know exactly how I feel. If you are not, I encourage you to turn on your TV on a Sunday night and tune into a Jane Austen classic. I guarantee that what you will find is not your grandmother’s Masterpiece Theatre. Instead, you may just discover a new appreciation, a new love, a new masterpiece – but without the stuffy Englishman in the smoking jacket.

Check out the new Masterpiece schedule – especially the Jane Austen lineup – on the 2010 Masterpiece Classic on PBS:

  • Emma, January 24 – Februrary 7, 2010, 9 PM Eastern
  • Northanger Abbey, February 14, 2010, 9 PM Eastern
  • Persuasion, February 21, 2010, 9 PM Eastern



  1. You know, as a Brit-loving, former English major, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never watched Masterpiece Theatre. You have convinced me that I’m missing out!

    I do, however, have a vague recollection of seeing Masterpiece Theatre reenactments on Sesame Street when I was a little kid 🙂

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