CPB Media Room

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting Honors Masterpiece's Rebecca Eaton with Lowell Award

  • December 4, 2012

Washington, D.C. – The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) yesterday presented Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of Masterpiece, with the Ralph Lowell Award, the most prestigious public media award honoring an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to public television.

Ms. Eaton, who has been executive producer of Masterpiece for more than 26 of its 41 years on the air, was recognized for ensuring the series upholds a high standard of excellence, not just for public media but for American television as a whole.

She has produced some of the highest quality television dramas, including the break-out hit Downton Abbey, which was watched by more than 17 million people, and has increased the audience for the celebrated series through her collaborations with A-list talent and producers.

Under Ms. Eaton’s leadership, Masterpiece has collected 65 Emmy Awards, 18 Peabody Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and dozens of industry awards.

“Rebecca Eaton has set the gold standard for programming in the television industry,” said Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of CPB. “She has a passion for creating beautifully told stories that invigorate viewers’ interest in great television drama. Her commitment to presenting first-rate productions featuring the finest actors, writers and directors has revitalized the Masterpiece series and attracted a wide audience to the most acclaimed content that only public television offers. We are very pleased to honor her with the Lowell Award.”

“We’re very proud to have a WGBH colleague recognized with this prestigious award named for our founder,” said Jon Abbott, president and CEO of WGBH Boston. “Rebecca embodies the vision of Ralph Lowell by delivering inspirational programs to audiences in Boston and across the country.”

“That I would someday be honored in the same breath as Alistair Cooke, Julia Child, my friend and mentor Henry Becton, and my dear friend Peter McGhee is something I never would have believed when I started as an unpaid secretary at WGBH-FM in 1971,” said Ms. Eaton. “I have been blessed with fascinating work, smart and dedicated colleagues, and an opportunity to contribute to one of my generation's most significant missions: American public broadcasting.”

Ms. Eaton received her award last evening in Washington, D.C.

Since taking over the helm of the Masterpiece series in 1986, Ms. Eaton has been responsible for such high-profile titles as Prime Suspect, Bleak House and recent hits including Sherlock, the new Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey.

In addition to curating the best in U.K. productions, Ms. Eaton twice launched major productions featuring American writers. Under her leadership, WGBH presented The American Collection, a series of adapted works from authors such as Langston Hughes, Willa Cather and Henry James. The production allowed Masterpiece to work with some of Hollywood’s finest talent in front of and behind the camera. Hughes’ Cora Unashamed was one of PBS’s highest rated shows.

Under her leadership, Masterpiece created another landmark for PBS when it launched the “American Mystery” specials, co-produced with Robert Redford and based on the popular Tony Hillerman novels featuring Native American characters, actors and stories.

Ms. Eaton is credited with creating a renaissance of Masterpiece in 2008, breaking it into three program strands (Classic, Mystery!, and Contemporary) and drawing in younger viewers with programming such as The Complete Jane Austen. The series experienced a 15 percent increase in viewers in the first year; 45 percent in the second year; and 107 percent last year.

Beyond the small screen, Ms. Eaton established The Masterpiece Trust, which created an opportunity for viewers to directly support the series. In just under two years, the trust has generated nearly $3 million for the series and for local public television stations nationwide.

Ms. Eaton began her production career as a production assistant for the BBC World Service in London. Returning to the U.S., she was hired by WGBH in Boston in 1972, where she produced Pantechnicon (a radio arts magazine) and the television programs Zoom and Enterprise.

Her distinguished career has earned her an honorary OBE (Officer, Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II. She was also was recognized on TIME magazine’s 2011 list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Ms. Eaton was born in Boston and raised in Pasadena, Calif. She graduated from Vassar in 1969 with a degree in English literature.

Click here for a list of past Lowell Award recipients.

About CPB

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government's investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,400 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services.

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