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Posted at 7:10 PM ET, 01/ 9/2011

PBS' corporate-sponsor-less "Masterpiece" to thank individual sponsors on-air

By Lisa de Moraes

When PBS's latest "Masterpiece" crunchy-gravel drama, "Downton Abbey" premieres tonight, you may notice something called The Masterpiece Trust running briefly on the TV screen.

Those are the names of people who have written substantial checks, specifically to finance this long-running franchise, which is one of PBS's most popular but which continues to operate without a major corporate sponsor.

"We are very proud of the four couples whose names will be founding members of Masterpiece Trust - whose names will be on the show for the first time," "Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton announced at Winter TV Press Tour 2011.

Exxon Mobil (formerly Mobil) provided sole funding for the program since it's debut in 1971, until deciding to drop its support at the end of 2004.

Having tried, unsuccessfully, for several years to land a new corporate sponsor, Eaton and others will now focus on wining and dining individuals in hopes of drumming up private sponsorships for the WGBH-produced series, which bills itself as America's longest-running weekly primetime drama series.

Over the years, "Masterpiece" (formerly "Masterpiece Theater") has given us such critically heralded British productions as "Upstairs, Downstairs," two versions of "The Forsyte Saga," "I, Claudius," "Bleak House," "The Jewel in the Crown," "House of Cards," "The Fortunes & Misfortunes of Moll Flanders," and "Jeeves & Wooster," among many other titles.

"We love this series, which has captured the imagination of the American television public unlike almost anything else," Eaton told The Reporters Who Cover Television at Winter TV Press Tour 2011.

"It has proven, hands down, that anglophilia is neither a punishable offense or a dirty word. It has shown that the best of British drama will draw an audience year in and year out," Eaton continued.

"Over its 40 years, it has won 51 Primetime Emmys...32 BAFTA [British Academy of Film and Television Arts] awards,...and 17 Peabody Awards... We have produced, co-produced, or acquired over 2000 hours of programming, which has been watched by an average of 5 million people a week over 40 years and many, many more now on time shift DVR, and Video on Demand. Who knows how many have bought the DVDs."

And now, for about the cost of a lease-return BMW 3-series, you can see your name on TV, attached to "Masterpiece," for three episodes.

PBS hopes to attract 40 Masterpiece Trust members this year - one for every year the franchise has been on the air.

By Lisa de Moraes  | January 9, 2011; 7:10 PM ET
Categories:  Winter TV Press Tour 2011  
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Comments

Please review basic English regarding the usage of "it's" and "its". UGH! "Its" debut, not "it's". Thanks. My 7th grade English teacher would be proud.

Posted by: createsastir | January 9, 2011 10:08 PM | Report abuse

@createastir -- its bothered me too. [sic, har har]

Wish other programs gave viewers a chance to pay. When Fetch! died out of nowhere, I was a little upset I couldn't PayPal in some cash.

Posted by: WorstSeat | January 10, 2011 12:04 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting that the local public broadcasting stations may accept this development because it's directed principally toward *major* individual or family donors.

As broadcast stations diminish in prominence among the routes by which program producers can distribute their work to viewers, it will be fascinating to see what roles public broadcast stations make for themselves in facilitating or obstructing the flow of money from viewers (many of whom are donors of more modest amounts) back to program producers.

Posted by: TedColtman | January 12, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting that the local public broadcasting stations may accept this development because it's directed principally toward *major* individual or family donors.

As broadcast stations diminish in prominence among the routes by which program producers can distribute their work to viewers, it will be fascinating to see what roles public broadcast stations make for themselves in facilitating or obstructing the flow of money from viewers (many of whom are donors of more modest amounts) back to program producers.

Posted by: TedColtman | January 12, 2011 2:59 PM | Report abuse

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