PBS Masterpiece Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton on Downton Abbey

January 08, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Elaborate costumes and high production values have become synonymous with PBS’ Masterpiece. Yet behind the beautiful frocks and detailed sets, the long-running primetime drama series underwent a major overhaul in recent years to adapt its look and scheduling for modern viewers.

Such details are the subject of a new memoir by Masterpiece’s award-winning producer Rebecca Eaton, entitled “Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS.”

In her memoir, Eaton shares some of the secrets behind Masterpiece’s most popular programs, including Downton Abbey. Recently premiering its fourth season, this smash hit was not love as first screening for Eaton as she turned down the initial pitch in 2009.

Unaware of the phenomenon Downton Abbey would become, she had a change of heart after hearing some of the major casting decisions. “I must be the luckiest woman in show business because it went around the circle of other American television executives to co-produce and nobody picked it up,” she told MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman.

According to Eaton, Downton Abbey’s success is due in part to a stellar combination of strong young actors and senior British stars. While the characters endure an era of hardship, similar to the hard times we endure today, it is the show’s goodhearted message of getting through these hard times together which has added to Downton Abbey’s appeal.

“In those times, even though they were tough, these people were enduring, prevailing and they were in this house – in this beautiful country house, they were in a community that supports each other and sees each other through,” she explained.

While Eaton reveals that her favorite characters are Daisy Mason, played by Sophie McShera, and Thomas Barrow, played by Rob James-Collier, she wouldn’t reveal any of the surprises that are in store for the show’s newest season.

As for Eaton’s future, “Making Masterpiece” was originally intended as her swan song but she admits that the interviews she conducted for the book helped her remember her love of the show and her job.

“Oh wait a minute, I have the best job in television,” she said. “Why would I retire?  So I’m completely back in the saddle, as a result.”