Jan 9, 2011

"Masterpiece" is reaching out to enthusiastic fans in two new and unique ways

Now, fans of Masterpiece can become part of the series that's celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. They can join a special trust to help directly fund the program, or literally retrace the footsteps of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and other characters.

Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton (right, PBS photo) announced yesterday (Jan. 8) at the TV Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif., that a "Masterpiece Trust" has been established. That financial support — which would go directly to the show — could go toward replacing some of the funding lost when longtime sponsor ExxonMobil pulled out as of 2005. So far, four couples will be listed as part of the trust in the credits on tonight's presentation of "Downton Abbey" (which, by the way, has been receiving rave reviews: The Los Angeles Times proclaimed the Edwardian drama "possibly the best show of the year").

The trust "is a unique way we have come up with to allow those devoted, loyal Masterpiece fans who want to give money directly to Masterpiece to continue its legacy," Eaton said, adding that further details will be coming later this week. "My feeling is this is the perfect way to acknowledge and tap into people who love Masterpiece and consider it the drama of their lives."

And Masterpiece is betting that those viewers also would like to immerse themselves in the shows by visiting the places where they are shot.

"With so many of our locations, people just yearn to be there and to go there," Eaton said. "So in honor of our 40th anniversary, we are creating the Masterpiece itinerary."

Working with Visit Britain, the official UK tourist agency, the series came up with a tour with 21 stops over a route of 985 miles. In addition, an online contest will send two people on a four-day trip to England in September. Highlights include VIP tours of Highclere Castle ("Jeeves & Wooster") and Blenheim Palace ("The Lost Prince").

By Barry Garron, longtime TV critic and past-president of the Television Critics Association, who is covering the Winter Press Tour for Current. Watch upcoming issues for more.

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