Rebecca Eaton

Executive Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In her three-and-a-half-hour interview, Rebecca Eaton talks about growing up in Pasadena, CA and attending Vassar College. She discusses her first job after graduation, at BBC Radio in London, and on returning to the United States to work first for Boston’s WGBH radio and then for WGBH television. She talks about the atmosphere at PBS in the early 1970s, and outlines her transition to producing Masterpiece Theatre (later renamed Masterpiece). Eaton goes into detail about her role as executive producer for Masterpiece Theatre, including working with Alistair Cooke and Vincent Price, dealing with early sponsor Mobil and later sponsor Viking Cruises, and challenges the program has faced with more recent competition from outlets like Netflix and HBO. She touches on notable Masterpiece programs, including Prime Suspect, “The American Collection,” and “The Complete Jane Austen,” as well as Sherlock. Eaton talks about Downton Abbey, detailing how the series came to Masterpiece, the immense popularity of the show, and working with Julian Fellowes. She concludes by discussing the challenge of balancing her work life and personal life, advice to aspiring producers, and her greatest career achievements and regrets. Adrienne Faillace conducted the interview on March 21, 2019 in Cambridge, MA.

"I produce Masterpiece also as a viewer. Because I love this material. I love these books. I love these actors. I want them to be shown in the very best possible light."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Rebecca Eaton on Masterpiece's longevity
Rebecca Eaton on how Downton Abbey came to be and how it came to Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on how she tackled the problem of funding for Masterpiece after its sponsor, Mobil, pulled out
Rebecca Eaton on "Sherlock" on Masterpiece Mystery, created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch
Rebecca Eaton on Masterpiece Mystery airing Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren
Rebecca Eaton on working with Alistair Cooke when he was host of Masterpiece Theatre
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On her childhood and early education; on movies and literature she loved as a child; on working at BBC Radio in London after graduating from Vassar College; on television she watched growing up
On her familiarity with the BBC before she started working there, and on her duties there; on returning to the United States and getting a job at WGBH radio in Boston; on becoming a producer on an arts program on WGBH
On her first job in television, on a live, public television show; on working on the PBS children's show Zoom
On working on documentaries, including a series of interviews with notable people; on how she came to work for Masterpiece Theatre; on working with the British broadcasters and underwriting corporations as executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre

Chapter 2

On the atmosphere at PBS when she began working there in the early 1970s; on the roles women had at PBS in the early 1970s; on how she chooses shows to air on Masterpiece Theatre, and on pushing the boundaries early on in her tenure, particularly when it came to the show's sponsor, Mobil; on Masterpiece Mystery airing Prime Suspect
On how production decisions are divided between PBS and their British partners on Masterpiece, and on the production process; on the publicity that is done for Masterpiece
On her role as executive producer of Masterpiece; on more recent competition for British programs from other outlets such as Netflix and HBO
On how the funding for Masterpiece has changed over time, particularly after Mobil pulled its sponsorship; on the number of episodes per year Masterpiece is able to fund

Chapter 3

On working with Masterpiece Theatre host Alistair Cooke; on Russell Baker replacing Alistair Cooke as host of Masterpiece Theatre
On the controversy and challenges surrounding the Masterpiece Theatre program "Portrait of a Marriage"; on the Masterpiece Theatre program "David Copperfield"
On "The American Collection" on Masterpiece Theatre; on some memorable interactions with Paul Newman while they were working on "Our Town" for Masterpiece Theatre
On Masterpiece Classic's"The Complete Jane Austen"; on how streaming and DVRs have affected Masterpiece; on various iterations of "Sherlock Holmes" on Masterpiece over the years, including Sherlock; on issues of leaks and piracy in the time period between shows airing in Britain and on Masterpiece in the United States

Chapter 4

On Masterpiece Mystery's Sherlock winning Emmy Awards; on "Wallander" on Masterpiece Mystery
On how Downton Abbey came to be; on her experience with Downton Abbey in its first season; on Downton Abbey's immense popularity; on various characters' deaths on Downton Abbey
On the social media response to Downton Abbey; on the legacy of Downton Abbey; on Masterpiece's longevity
On the eventual legacy of Masterpiece; on her producing style; on the challenging of balancing her professional life and personal life; on advice to aspiring producers, particularly women
On her proudest career achievement; on the Masterpiece Trust; on career regrets, and on the then-future of Masterpiece; on dream projects; on how she would like to be remembered
Shows

Downton Abbey

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Rebecca Eaton on how Downton Abbey came to be and how it came to Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on going to the set of Downton Abbey in its first season, and on how the series went from being under the radar to incredibly popular
Rebecca Eaton on the success and popularity of Downton Abbey
Rebecca Eaton on various characters' deaths on Downton Abbey
Rebecca Eaton on the social media response to Downton Abbey
Rebecca Eaton on the legacy of Downton Abbey

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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Rebecca Eaton on Masterpiece Mystery's Sherlock winning Emmy Awards
Rebecca Eaton on how WGBH and their British co-producers work together in the process of Emmy nominations
Rebecca Eaton on how it feels to accept an Emmy Award, and on public speaking in general

Masterpiece Theatre

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Rebecca Eaton on how she came to work for Masterpiece Theatre
Rebecca Eaton on the relationship between PBS, British broadcasters, and sponsors on Masterpiece Theatre
Rebecca Eaton on how she approached finding British shows to air on Masterpiece Theatre when she first began working there, and more recently on Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on how she has tried to push the boundaries at Masterpiece Theatre, particularly when it came to Mobil, which was the sponsor when she started working at PBS in the early 1970s
Rebecca Eaton on Masterpiece Mystery airing Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren
Rebecca Eaton on how production decisions are divided between PBS and their British partners on Masterpiece, and on the production process
Rebecca Eaton on the publicity that is done for Masterpiece, and working with the actors, who are often movie stars
Rebecca Eaton on her role as executive producer of Masterpiece, in particular negotiating rights for the shows they acquire
Rebecca Eaton on dealing with competition for acquiring British shows for Masterpiece, which has increased over time with outlets like HBO and Netflix
Rebecca Eaton on how the funding for Masterpiece has changed over time
Rebecca Eaton on the difference between the funding Masterpiece received from its original sponsor, Mobil, and its then-current underwriter, Viking Cruises
Rebecca Eaton on working with Alistair Cooke when he was host of Masterpiece Theatre
Rebecca Eaton on Russell Baker replacing Alistair Cooke as host of Masterpiece Theatre, and on how Cooke came to be the host of the series
Rebecca Eaton on working with Russell Baker when he was host of Masterpiece Theatre
Rebecca Eaton on the Masterpiece Theatre program "Portrait of a Marriage"
Rebecca Eaton on the Masterpiece Theatre program "David Copperfield", which was the onscreen debut of Daniel Radcliffe
Rebecca Eaton Masterpiece Theatre's "The American Collection"
Rebecca Eaton on 2008's "The Complete Jane Austen", which was part of Masterpiece Theatre's rebrand to Masterpiece Classic
Rebecca Eaton on Masterpiece Theatre's 1980s iteration of "Sherlock Holmes"
Rebecca Eaton on Sherlock on Masterpiece Mystery, created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch
Rebecca Eaton on issues of piracy and leaks in the delay between shows airing in Britain and airing in the United States on Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on Masterpiece Mystery's Sherlock winning Emmy Awards
Rebecca Eaton on how WGBH and their British co-producers work together in the process of Emmy nominations
Rebecca Eaton on "Wallander" on Masterpiece Mystery, and on the appeal of Masterpiece shows
Rebecca Eaton on how Downton Abbey came to be and how it came to Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on going to the set of Downton Abbey in its first season, and on how the series went from being under the radar to incredibly popular
Rebecca Eaton on the success and popularity of Downton Abbey
Rebecca Eaton on various characters' deaths on Downton Abbey
Rebecca Eaton on the social media response to Downton Abbey
Rebecca Eaton on the legacy of Downton Abbey
Rebecca Eaton on Masterpiece's longevity
Rebecca Eaton on the eventual legacy of Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on the longevity of Masterpiece being her proudest career achievement, and on having created the Masterpiece Trust to help fund Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on how Masterpiece is preparing for the future

Sherlock

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Rebecca Eaton on Sherlock on Masterpiece Mystery, created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch
Rebecca Eaton on Masterpiece Mystery's Sherlock winning Emmy Awards
Topics

Advertising and Sponsorship

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on how she dealt with Mobil, which was the sponsor of Masterpiece Theatre when she first began at PBS in the early 1970s
Rebecca Eaton on how funding for Masterpiece has changed over time, especially after Mobil ceased to be the sponsor

Advice

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on advice to aspiring producers, particularly women

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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Rebecca Eaton on the controversy surrounding the Masterpiece Theatre program "Portrait of a Marriage", which featured love scenes between two women

Creative Influences and Inspiration

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on her mother, who was an actress, taking her to the theater when she was a child
Rebecca Eaton on working at the BBC in London after graduating from Vassar College, and her love of British culture
Rebecca Eaton on her mentor, Henry Becton, former President of WGBH in Boston

Diversity in Television

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on finding out she was pregnant on the same day she was offered the job of executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre
Rebecca Eaton on the roles women had at PBS in the early 1970s, and how that has changed over time
Rebecca Eaton on the controversy surrounding the Masterpiece Theatre program "Portrait of a Marriage", which featured love scenes between two women
Rebecca Eaton on the challenges of balancing her professional life and personal life as a female producer

Emmy Awards

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on Masterpiece Mystery'sSherlock winning Emmy Awards
Rebecca Eaton on how WGBH and their British co-producers work together in the process of Emmy nominations
Rebecca Eaton on how it feels to accept an Emmy Award, and on public speaking in general

Fame and Celebrity

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Rebecca Eaton on the reception to Downton Abbey, and on the show's fans

First Big Break

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Rebecca Eaton on her first producing job, on an arts magazine show on WGBH radio in Boston

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on finding out she was pregnant on the same day she was offered the job of executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre
Rebecca Eaton on the roles women had at PBS in the early 1970s, and how that has changed over time
Rebecca Eaton on the controversy surrounding the Masterpiece Theatre program "Portrait of a Marriage", which featured love scenes between two women
Rebecca Eaton on the challenges of balancing her professional life and personal life as a female producer

LGBTQ

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on the controversy surrounding the Masterpiece Theatre program "Portrait of a Marriage", which featured love scenes between two women

New Media

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on Netflix acquiring The Crown, and how this affected Masterpiece (because Netflix's budgets are so much larger than PBS')
Rebecca Eaton on how streaming and DVRs changed viewing habits, and how that affected Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on the social media response to Downton Abbey

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on her mother, who was an actress, taking her to the theater when she was a child
Rebecca Eaton on working at the BBC in London after graduating from Vassar College, and her love of British culture
Rebecca Eaton on her first producing job, on an arts magazine show on WGBH radio in Boston
Rebecca Eaton on her mentor, Henry Becton, former President of WGBH in Boston

Pop Culture

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on the reception to Downton Abbey, and on the show's fans

Public Television

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on the atmosphere at PBS in the early 1970s when she began working there, and how it reflected the political and protest movements happening in the United States at the time
Rebecca Eaton on how funding for Masterpiece has changed over time, especially after Mobil ceased to be the sponsor

Television Industry

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on the atmosphere at PBS in the early 1970s when she began working there, and how it reflected the political and protest movements happening in the United States at the time
Rebecca Eaton on how she dealt with Mobil, which was the sponsor of Masterpiece Theatre when she first began at PBS in the early 1970s
Rebecca Eaton on Netflix acquiring The Crown, and how this affected Masterpiece (because Netflix's budgets are so much larger than PBS')
Rebecca Eaton on how funding for Masterpiece has changed over time, especially after Mobil ceased to be the sponsor
Rebecca Eaton on the controversy surrounding the Masterpiece Theatre program "Portrait of a Marriage", which featured love scenes between two women
Rebecca Eaton on how streaming and DVRs changed viewing habits, and how that affected Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on the social media response to Downton Abbey
Rebecca Eaton on advice to aspiring producers, particularly women

Women

View Topic
Rebecca Eaton on finding out she was pregnant on the same day she was offered the job of executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre
Rebecca Eaton on the roles women had at PBS in the early 1970s, and how that has changed over time
Rebecca Eaton on the challenges of balancing her professional life and personal life as a female producer
Professions

Producers

View Profession
Rebecca Eaton on her role as executive producer of Masterpiece, in particular negotiating rights for the shows they acquire
Rebecca Eaton on dealing with competition for acquiring British shows for Masterpiece, which has increased over time with outlets like HBO and Netflix
Rebecca Eaton on how she tackled the problem of funding for Masterpiece after its sponsor, Mobil, pulled out
Rebecca Eaton on her producing style
Rebecca Eaton on advice to aspiring producers, particularly women
Genres

Children's Programming

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Rebecca Eaton on working for the PBS children's show Zoom

Drama Series

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Rebecca Eaton on executive producing Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton on executive producing Masterpiece, and on some of the series' programs through the years
People

Kenneth Branagh

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Rebecca Eaton on "Wallander" on Masterpiece Mystery, starring Kenneth Branagh

Alistair Cooke

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Rebecca Eaton on working with Alistair Cooke when he was host of Masterpiece Theatre
Rebecca Eaton on how Alistair Cooke became host of Masterpiece Theatre
Rebecca Eaton on host Alistair Cooke's objections to the Masterpiece Theatre program "Portrait of a Marriage", and on the fact that he never voiced the sponsorship credit for Mobil

Julian Fellowes

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Rebecca Eaton on how Downton Abbey, created by Julian Fellowes, came to be
Rebecca Eaton on Julian Fellowes' accomplishments in the writing of Downton Abbey

Paul Newman

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Rebecca Eaton on working with Paul Newman when he starred in "Our Town" for Masterpiece Theatre's "The American Collection"
Rebecca Eaton on meeting with Robert Redford because he owned the rights to Tony Hillerman's mystery novels, and on an interaction with Paul Newman
Rebecca Eaton on an early morning phone call she received from Paul Newman

Vincent Price

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Rebecca Eaton on working with Vincent Price when he was the host of Masterpiece Mystery

Robert Redford

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Rebecca Eaton on meeting with Robert Redford because he owned the rights to Tony Hillerman's mystery novels, and on an interaction with Paul Newman

Marian Rees

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Rebecca Eaton on Marian Rees producing "The American Collection" for Masterpiece Theatre

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