In January 1971, PBS debuted one of its long-lasting programs – Masterpiece Theatre.
Hosted by Alistair Cook, the series was focused on tv adaptations of classic novels and biographies, and collaborating with productions from England to bring them to North American audiences.
The first production aired was The First Churchills, about the relationship of the first Duke of Marlborough and his wife in the 17th century.
This program has brought many well-known series to this side of the pond, including I, Claudius, Upstairs Downstairs, The Jewel in the Crown, and The Forsyte Saga.
Thanks to the pursuit of Stanford Calderwood, president of WGBH, the Boston affiliate of PBS to see if British networks would allow them to buy their programs for airing in the United States, discussions began and then were supported thanks to the patronage of Mobile Corporation.
Masterpiece Theatre’s success definitely was confirmed with the airing of Upstairs Downstairs, originally created by London Weekend Television and then picked up by the BBC in the early 1970s, but aired on PBS starting in 1974, gaining the program several Emmy Awards.
For those of us who grew up with Masterpiece Theatre, we knew Sunday night would feature a period drama, old-fashioned relationships, a bit of scandal and definitely a slice of the past we didn’t see anywhere else on television.
Now the longest running prime time drama series on television, its success continues with modern day Brit series like Prime Suspect, North and South and the current obsession, Downton Abbey.