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Posted at 07:41 PM ET, 07/31/2011

Summer TV Press Tour 2011: PBS’ ‘Masterpiece’ finds corporate sponsor in time for new season of ‘Downton Abbey’


Downton Abbey (PBS - PBS)
PBS’s “Masterpiece” has a national corporate sponsor for the first time since 2004, exec producer Rebecca Eaton announced gleefully at Summer TV Press Tour 2011.

Viking River Cruises, which offers cruises along the rivers of Europe, Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt, is signed up as the new corporate sponsor for fourth quarter of ’11 and first quarter of ’12.

“Their people are our people. It’s a match made in heaven,” Eaton said jubiliantly at the start of a Press Tour Q&A session about the second season of “Masterpiece’s” crunchy gravel drama, “Downton Abbey.”

“Boy, am I glad to be here with you!” Eaton told TV critics attending the tour, at the Beverly Hills Hilton. “We have a hit!” she said of the “DA,” which clocked about 13 million viewers in its first season on PBS. The second season debuts on PBS on Jan 8, 2012.

ExxonMobile (formerly Mobil), which had provided sole funding for “Masterpiece” program since it’s debut in 1971, deciding to drop its support at the end of 2004.

After trying, unsuccessfully, for several years to land a new corporate sponsor, Eaton and others focused on wining and dining individuals, in hopes of drumming up private sponsorships for the WGBH-produced series, which bills itself as America’s longest-running weekly primetime drama series.

And when “DA” premiered last January, you may have noticed something called The Masterpiece Trust running briefly on the TV screen.

Those were the names of people who had written substantial checks, specifically to finance thw long-running “Masterpiece” franchise, which is one of PBS’s most popular. For about the cost of a lease-return BMW 3-series, those folks got to see their name on TV, attached to “Masterpiece,” for three episodes.

Viking River, which has its marketing and sales operations headquartered in Los Angeles, and its operational HQ in Switzerland, had just launched its first television campaign in June. As part of that push, it surveyed passengers and discovered “Masterpiece” was one of their favorite television programs. So they looked into it, and discovered “their demographic is our demographic,” Mark Brogger, company marketing senior director told The TV Column. The deal took two days to put together, start to finish. He declined to discuss the pricetag.

Over the years, “Masterpiece” (formerly “Masterpiece Theater”) has given us such critically heralded British productions as “Upstairs, Downstairs,” two versions of “The Forsyte Saga,” “I, Claudius,” “Bleak House,” “The Jewel in the Crown,” “House of Cards,” “The Fortunes & Misfortunes of Moll Flanders,” and “Jeeves & Wooster,” among many other titles.

By  |  07:41 PM ET, 07/31/2011

 
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