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The Best of Masterpiece Theatre

Interview with Darcy Corcoran, Executive Producer

WGBH Boston's Darcy Corcoran, executive producer of The Best of Masterpiece Theatre, discusses the making of the special.

Describe the program...

The special unfolds in three acts, counting down from number twelve to the number one choice. At the end of each act, we reveal the winners in some of the categories -- such as favorite villain or actor in a period drama.

How did you decide which series and actors to include in the survey and the special?

It was very important to us that the survey and the special reflected viewers' choices, so we even conducted focus groups with Masterpiece viewers to decide what questions to include on the survey. Their input helped us narrow the immense list of possible candidates. When completed surveys started coming in we used that information to identify which actors and actresses to contact for interviews.

The viewers' preferences guided us every step of the way. And because the viewers made the choices, there are a few lovely surprises in the mix -- stars or series that are very worthy but don't often get the attention of some of the more iconic Masterpiece Theatre programs like Upstairs, Downstairs.

How many interviews did you conduct? Was it easy to get people to participate?

I think we talked to about 25 people. Most in London, but a few in Los Angeles, New York and even the south of France. Because of the positive relationship many of these actors have had with Masterpiece Theatre and its fans -- some for as many as 30 years -- they were very accommodating.

The interviews must have been great fun.

They were. As a longtime fan of Masterpiece Theatre, I was thrilled and honored to be able to interview so many of the actors that I, too, had enjoyed watching over the years. The words "charming," "witty" and "gracious" come to mind. I expected them to be very good when discussing the characters that our viewers selected as favorites.

But the part of each interview that was often most interesting, was when I'd ask them to comment on the various series in our Top 12 list. Most were familiar with them and had strong opinions. I remember Jean Marsh telling me she hated the idea that the #8 series would be made into a television program because it was her favorite book and she thought they could never do it justice. Diana Rigg --with a twinkle in her eye -- commented that one of the actors in our #4 favorite program was very good at being bad.

Other favorite moments?

We interviewed Glenda Jackson (Elizabeth R), who is no longer an actress but now an MP in the House of Commons. After the interview was over, she came and sat down in the little kitchen of our apartment in Mayfair, where we conducted the London interviews, and just talked with us about acting, the state of television today, and politics.

Damian Lewis was another great interview. People know him best as Soames in The Forsyte Saga. Soames is a very stiff, determined, harsh and rather insular character. But Damian Lewis is a lovely man. He had just had a new baby come into his life a few weeks earlier -- and he had that new father glow. Damian has a new series coming up next season on NBC.

Robson Green... A friend of mine in Minnesota is convinced I came up with the concept for The Best of Masterpiece Theatre special so that I could spend 20 minutes interviewing Robson Green! I'm not confirming or denying that theory, but I will say to all his fans, when I did meet him, his eyes were very blue, and he could not have been kinder. He was in the middle of shooting a new series on the outskirts of London and squeezed us in during his lunch break.

And as much as I loved the actors, I also very taken with the screenwriter Andrew Davies, who adapted several of the shows in the Top 12. His was the last interview of the day and, when we finished, he sat down with our crew had a glass of wine or two. We discussed books, writing, actors, his favorite directors, and upcoming projects. What could be better?

We are in final editing now. As we put the special together, I want to give viewers a sense of that experience. In some small way, I think of The Best of Masterpiece Theatre special as an invitation to a really great dinner party where you have the pick of guests at your table. They're all smart, funny and interesting, and everybody is talking about your favorite subject -- great Masterpiece Theatre programs from the past 35 years.

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