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Jane Austen's 'Re-dos and Ratings'

In "You've Got Mail," Tom Hanks told Meg Ryan she struck him as the kind of person who read Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" every year like he meant it to sting. Jane Austen Fanatics took it personally. (JAF's are only slightly less weirdsmobile than Scary Sci Fi People who flood your email when you mention "Battlestar Galactica" will end its run at the wrap of it fourth season, or question the sanity of CBS in bringing back "Jericho." JAF's show up to screenings of a new "Mansfield Park" flick dressed in early 19th century costumes.)

"Masterpiece Theatre" executive producer Rebecca Eaton intends to tap into the JAF audience with her orgy of Austen excess, starting in January.

Over 10 weeks, "The Complete Jane Austin" will include, not only a badly-named Austen biopic called "Miss Austen Regrets" about Austen and the three men she might have married (but thankfully did not, leaving her time to write her novels), but also adaptations of all six of the books she started writing at the age of 35 and the last of which, "Persuasion," was published after her death, six years later.

The BBC, which tends to be PBS's partner in its crunchy gravel period dramas, has already adapted all six Austen novels for TV and some have aired on PBS. Even so, four of the productions for "The Complete Jane Austen" are new productions, including "Sense and Sensibility," "Northanger Abby," "Mansfield Park" and "Persuasion" which Eaton assured us will be better than the original production even though it did star the delicious Ciairin Hinds.

"Masterpiece Theatre" will, however, air the previously produced version of "Pride and Prejudice" -- better known as The Colin Firth "Pride and Prejudice" after its lovely male lead -- and the previously produced "Emma" starring Kate Beckinsale. Both those productions were scripted by Andrew Davies. Both did not air on PBS originally, but on A&E which in those days was competing with PBS, but which these days goes in for "Dog the Bounty Hunter" in an effort to young-up its audience.

Not coincidentally, Davies has written the scripts for several of the four new adaptations. During a "Masterpiece Theatre" Q&A session at Summer TV Press Tour 2007, Davies was asked what it is about Austen's writing that speaks to a modern audience.

He blah, blah, blahed about Austen being such a brilliant writer in terms of pacing and plotting, then got to the nub of the issue: " I do think the other thing is these men (she writes) are so satisfactory, unlike the men we see around us, the men indeed that we are, you know."

Exec producer Eaton had come to her all-things-Austen Q&A armed with a copy of a recent Newsweek cover story "181 Things You Need to Know Now" which opened with a picture of a globe plastered with pictures of people in-the-news. Right in the middle -- Jane Austen. Austen has about 3,000 friends on MySpace, Eaton noted. "There is something going on with Jane and that's what we are capitalizing on," Eaton said, noting two Jane Austen movies that are about to be released: Miramax's "Becoming Jane" which, sadly, stars Anne Hathaway, and "Jane Austen Book Club" which hopefully will not.

But apparently she was preaching to the choir. During her Q&A, Eaton was interrupted with a message from her publicist that she relayed to the reporters:

"I have an urgent message from our publicist to tell you that the action figures, the Jane Austen action figures on your table -- you don't have to fight over them. There are plenty more. You're each going to get one in your press kits, so calm down about the action figures."

Editor's note: For more on the Summer TV Press Tour, read Lisa's TV column: Ken Burns and the Old Soldiers Who Wouldn't Fade Away

By Maura McCarthy  |  July 12, 2007; 6:46 AM ET
Categories:  Summer TV Press Tour 2007  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Thinking Too Hard at PBS
Next: Women and the Cable Nets That Love Them


You were in a room with Andrew Davies??!!! I'm jealous. (and obviously a huge dork.)

Though someone needs to ask the man what on earth is going on with his Brideshead Revisited remake. I've heard all is not well with that script.

Posted by: MB | July 12, 2007 11:06 AM | Report abuse

How can we get Jane Austen action figures?

Posted by: A. Withers | July 12, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

They're remaking Brideshead?!? Please no. Some things simply cannot be improved. Just rerun the original instead.

Posted by: arlington | July 12, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

As I sit here looking at the Jane Austen action figure on my desk and try to calendar my next JASNA meeting, I take exception to your description of JAFs. I have never in my life worn an early 19th century costume. Late 18th, yes, but not early 19th.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | July 12, 2007 3:44 PM | Report abuse

My wife had an Austen figure. I bought it for her at Olsson's. A year later, I bought a Dickens figure to add to the collection.

Next up: A James Patterson action figure.

Kidding about that last part, of course.

Posted by: Action Man | July 12, 2007 4:04 PM | Report abuse

i'd like an inspector lynley action figure, especially if he was about 6'2" and looked like nathaniel parker.

Posted by: methinks | July 12, 2007 11:07 PM | Report abuse

How dare you rip Anne Hathaway? The woman's a wonderful actress and a excellent singer!

Posted by: Bill | July 16, 2007 7:37 PM | Report abuse

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