MASTERPIECE honors the life of Russell Baker, who hosted the series from 1993 to 2004, succeeding Alistair Cooke. The bestselling author and syndicated columnist died on January 21, 2019, at the age of 93.
“In America, if you’re not on television, you’re not an American,” Baker said on succeeding Cooke. “I’m a huge fan of MASTERPIECE THEATRE, and I thought this was the most honorable way to satisfy that lust to be on TV.”
Millions of readers knew Baker’s self-effacing style through his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Growing Up, its sequel The Good Times, 13 other books, and nearly 5,000 syndicated newspaper columns (also Pulitzer Prize-winning) written for The New York Times between 1962 and 1998.
Baker was born in 1925 in Loudon County, Virginia, and spent his boyhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Following pilot training with the Navy during World War II, he returned to Baltimore to complete his degree at Johns Hopkins University (English Literature, 1947) and stayed in town to work for The Baltimore Sun. In 1954, he joined the Washington bureau of The New York Times. There, he covered the White House, Congress, State Department, and national politics until a column beckoned in 1962. In 1986 he returned to his rural roots.
“Russell always said he wanted to be the guy who FOLLOWED the guy who followed Alistair Cooke as MASTERPIECE host,” recalls MASTERPIECE Executive Producer Rebecca Eaton. “He filled those shoes beautifully with his own all-American, literate, and deceptively plain-spoken style. We loved him.”