We asked Forum's producers to pick their favorite arts shows from 2013. Here is Online Producer Amanda Stupi's pick.
It started out simply, with Forum's Senior Editor Dan Zoll asking "Should we have the executive producer of Downton Abbey on?" I proceeded to freak out and spewed some indecipherable answer that sounded like "Yesohmygodwehavetohaveheron Iloveodowntonabbey yesohmygodyes."Rebecca Eaton was the guest Zoll was referring to, and she is actually the Executive Producer of the entire Masterpiece series, not only Downton Abbey. I'm a huge Downton fan, but the interview stayed with me for lots of other reasons as well: I found it refreshing that Eaton acknowledged the timing and luck involved with her success. She used the word "malarkey." Guest host Rachael Myrow read an email from a listener that said "OMG, Mr. Selfridge bit so hard," and Eaton responded to the criticism without missing a beat. And lastly, as the person who manages the online side of a radio show with a longstanding and loyal following, I related to Eaton's challenge of rebranding a classic like Masterpiece.
On How She Got Her Job:
"I have been incredibly lucky in my life and my career, because I fell into public broadcasting by wanting to live in England. That's all I wanted to do growing up. I read all these books and was just a complete Anglophile living in Pasadena, California. There was a program at my college, which sent two graduates a year to work at the BBC in London. I just took the job, I didn't know what BBC even stood for, I just wanted to live in London and go to the theater. Then one thing, as so often happens, leads to another. And I was there for a year and a half, and came back just at the moment that NPR was starting. PBS had gone on the air a year or two before... this is 1971, and I volunteered at WGBH in Boston and started producing an arts show..."
On Rebranding Masterpiece:
"I don't know anything about branding or rebranding, and it might've been a blessing that I didn't because rebranding a classic like Coke, for instance, is a really dangerous thing to do. You run the risk of alienating your very faithful fans, and that's what Masterpiece had. And you run the risk of throwing away millions of dollars to try to attract new people who basically won't be attracted. So, not knowing any of that, we were able to get a little bit of money from PBS and from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- a very little bit of money -- and we did our own research. We basically hired a wonderful branding expert named Bob Knapp and said 'Don't give us any malarkey, don't give us any mission statements, any expensive ideas, we need really doable advice.' He did... So, we took a deep breath and redid the kind of window dressing of Masterpiece."
On the Audience Reaction to Mathew's Death:
"As Julian Fellowes said, 'How else could he have gone? Would he and Mary have grown apart? Would he have gone off on a trip?' If he had gone off on a trip, you would be waiting for him to come back, endlessly. I don't know if the complaint is that there was no -- that he was clearly dead and then there wasn't any time for the audience to mourn with the family. For instance, you're watching it, he's dead and that's the end of the show and there you are, sitting in your living room and now what do you do? It would have been more comforting to have, what will be part of the beginning of Season Four, which is the family in mourning... I think that it will help for the audience to be with them, briefly, and maybe it could have helped if we could have been with Mary when she heard the news. But, oh my gosh, that would have been excruciating too. I don't know how we could have made people feel better about it."
On Downton Abbey Creator Julian Fellowes:
"There is one writer for Downton Abbey: Julian Fellowes. He created it, and he is the only writer. He writes every word. He designs every scene, not physically, but he envisions every scene. I think he probably acts out every part as he's writing it and none better than Maggie Smith. He and Maggie Smith have arrived together on some planet and they don't need to speak. He can sense how a line would sound coming from Maggie and he writes for her. So you have to hand it for Julian Fellowes. He is the guy."
On Complaints About American Broadcast Delays:
"We hear about this a lot, with Sherlock as well as with Downton. We think about it all the time. We talk about it all the time. We try to figure out the pros and cons of moving the broadcast closer to the UK transmission. So, I will just say this: Technically it's complicated because there are different lengths and different formats in the UK. But, the truth of it is, with Downton for instance, it airs in the UK in September and October and we broadcast it in January. January and February is a very sweet spot for PBS and for Masterpiece. The audience numbers are very high. I don't know if it's because the weather is bad and people are inside watching television. To put it earlier, we would put Downton in the teeth of the storm. We would put it up against the premiers for all the network shows and they have a lot of money and a very loud voice and it is potentially a difficult time for a show. We have been asked by the critics constantly when we have done that, 'Why did you air this show up against the premieres? It's stupid, don't do it!'"