Masterpiece Trust secures $3 million gift from San Diego donor

By Dru Sefton

SAN FRANCISCO – Amid previews of upcoming programming at the PBS Annual Meeting, including a groundbreaking 14-hour series on the Roosevelt family from Ken Burns, came extraordinary news of a record-setting donation for Masterpiece.

Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton told attendees that the icon strand, through its Masterpiece Trust, will receive $3 million from longtime supporter Darlene Shiley on behalf of herself and her late husband Donald. Shiley’s local station, KPBS in San Diego, will share a portion of the contribution.

The gift triples Shiley’s previously unprecedented $1 million donation in 2012.

Since its inception in 2011, the trust has raised nearly $10 million for Masterpiece and local stations designated by donors.

“My husband and I always took great satisfaction in supporting KPBS and its programs such as Masterpiece,” Shiley said in a statement. “Our lives were enriched by these wonderful stories, and I am just delighted that our support helps keep the very best drama on American television.”

Eaton’s announcement came during a preview of primetime programming at the conference, which winds up Thursday at the Marriott Marquis. The crowd saw a trailer for the second season of the British drama Last Tango in Halifax, heard details of an expanded PBS Fall Arts Festival to run over 11 weeks, got a peek at upcoming indie films on Independent Lens and POV, and previewed the comedy Vicious, featuring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as a devoted but comically bickering gay couple.

Joe Campbell, v.p. of fundraising programming, told the crowd that his staff plans to deliver an entire week of fundraising programs from producers of PBS’s regularly scheduled series, allowing stations to pledge the NPS schedule during their December drives.

Martha Stewart discusses her two public television shows at the PBS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. (Photo: Les Kamens, The Photo Group)

Martha Stewart discusses her two public television shows at the PBS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. (Photo: Les Kamens, The Photo Group)

Domestic doyenne Martha Stewart made a surprise appearance, talking up new seasons of  her Martha Stewart Cooking School and Martha Bakes, both presented by WETA in Arlington, Va.

As she signed cookbooks in preparation for a meet-and-greet with general managers, Stewart chatted with Current about watching and producing for PBS. Her first television special, Martha Stewart’s Secrets for Entertaining: A Holiday Feast for Thanksgiving, ran on pubTV in 1986.  “People couldn’t believe that it was actually done in my house, with a crew of about seven people,” she said. “It showed the possibilities of what Thanksgiving could actually be.”

As a longtime public TV viewer, Stewart’s favorite shows date back to the March 1972 Masterpiece presentation of The Golden Bowl, an adaptation of a Henry James novel. (From an online description: “Neither father nor daughter knows that their spouses had formerly been passionately in love with each other.”)

“That was one of the sexiest series PBS ever did,” she said. “Better than Downton Abbey. And I’m a big fan of that.”

In other news Wednesday, PBS announced a Nov. 26 premiere for Odd Squad, its new live-action series for school-aged children.  During a session devoted to PBS Kids, series creators Tim McKeon and Adam Peltzman (The Electric Company) said that in addition to learning lots of math skills, young viewers may enjoy watching how kid characters in the series expertly run the Odd Squad detective agency while the adults in the show are portrayed as bumbling and silly. It’s produced by the Fred Rogers Co. and Sinking Ship Entertainment.

Ken Burns chats with Anna Eleanor Roosevelt about his upcoming series on the famous family. (Photo: Les Kamens, The Photo Group)

Ken Burns chats with Anna Eleanor Roosevelt about his upcoming series on the famous family. (Photo: Les Kamens, The Photo Group)

And documentarian Burns shared two trailers for the seven-part The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, the first film to examine the intertwined lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor. His special guest at the luncheon session was Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, named for her famous grandmother. She was born on Dec. 10, 1948, the day the United Nations General Assembly passed her grandmother’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, who appears in Burns’s series, came along after her presidential grandfather died but remembers sensing that “someone extraordinary” was in the house when her grandmother visited. She was the youngest of three children, but her grandmother sat next to her on the sofa “and always listened to me very attentively,” she said. “Little 4-year-old me.”

Roosevelt now chairs the Roosevelt Institute in New York City, which carries forward her grandparents’ legacy by supporting progressive ideas and projects.

The day concluded with a festive “Indies Night” Chinatown street fair complete with food trucks, colorful dancing dragons and live performances  of jazz and world music. That bash was a collaborative effort sponsored by the Independent Television Service, local KQED, the National Minority Consortia, POV and World Channel.

Questions, comments, tips? sefton@current.org

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