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Posted at 01:37 PM ET, 09/10/2012

Ralph Lauren signs up as corporate sponsor for PBS’s ‘Masterpiece’


Ralph Lauren (Richard Drew - AP)

After paying homage to -- some might say knocking off -- “Downton Abbey” with his new fall collection, Ralph Lauren has decided to make sure the show from which he draws his “inspiration” continues into perpetuity, and become a corporate sponsor of “Downton” presenter, PBS’s “Masterpiece.”

When Lauren unveiled his fall collection, the takeaway of the Telegraph’s fashion writer is that Lauren was clearly one of “Downton’s” biggest fans; Vogue, meanwhile, noted that as the curtain went up on the show, it was to the strains of the “Downton” theme song.

“All of a sudden, the entire audience was transported, misty-eyed, to watching PBS at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night, not the Ralph Lauren show at 10:00 a.m. on a Thursday morning,” Vogue continued.

In becoming a corporate sponsor of “Masterpiece,” Ralph Lauren has joined Viking Cruise Lines.

The franchise is now “sold out” for corporate sponsorship, for the first time since the heady ExxonMobil days, “Masterpiece” exec producer Rebecca Eaton told the TV Column Monday. (Masterpiece Trust, the venue for individual donations to the series is still open for business, she hastened to add.)

ExxonMobil, which had been “Masterpiece’s” corporate sponsor for about three decades, announced it would stop underwriting the franchise in spring of 2004; in the later years of that relationship, the company had provided full funding for the drama series, a rep for Boston PBS station WGBH, which packages the series, said at that time.

Losing ExxonMobil put “Masterpiece” in a financial bind, but it survived without a corporate sponsor thanks to public television, which picked up the tab until a replacement corporate sponsor, Viking River Cruises, stepped up in summer of 2011.

It’s the first television sponsorship for Ralph Lauren Corp.; the company’s first on-air sponsorship messages will begin on Sept. 30 with the broadcast of “Upstairs Downstairs.” (Fall “Masterpiece” titles also include new episodes of Kenneth Brannaugh cop drama “Wallander,” and the third season of “Downton Abbey,” which begins in January of ’13.)

PBS said Lauren’s company plans to “create unique spots for the various titles in the Masterpiece series.” “Spots” is industry talk for “ads.”

“Now my dream is to have people wear Ralph Lauren clothes and go on Viking River cruises and watch ‘Masterpiece’ in the evening,” “Masterpiece” exec producer Rebecca Eaton joked.

In its announcement, PBS plugged Lauren thusly:

“In designing a collection, Mr. Lauren tells a story through his clothes by drawing inspiration from everything around him, including “Masterpiece” series such as ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Upstairs Downstairs.’

“He has always had a true appreciation for the heritage and romance of England and reflects this through his fall 2012 collection which is about modern glamour inspired by timeless character and refined elegance.”

Eaton told the TV Column the relationship will not affect the kind of programming PBS commissions for “Masterpiece.” “It is the kind of programming we’ve always done,” she said.

“My theory is that beautiful clothes have always been the unsung heroines of every period drama we’ve done. Sometimes people watch [the programs] for the plot, the actors, the locations, OR the frocks. This is so who we are, it is not going to change anything about how we choose programs. My sense is [Lauren] was a fan long before ‘Downton,’ which makes sense, considering his taste.”

“To coin a phrase: It’s a perfect fit — tailor-made!” she added.

By  |  01:37 PM ET, 09/10/2012

 
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