The Oilman Who Helped Bring Us ‘Masterpiece Theatre’

In the 1970s, author and social commentator Tom Wolfe joked that the first letter in PBS stood for petroleum, because oil money underwrote so much public broadcast programming. Wolfe had a point. One of the network’s most acclaimed shows, Masterpiece (originally Masterpiece Theatre), got its start in 1971 thanks to a $490,000 grant from Mobil Oil. That largess was the doing of Mobil chairman Rawleigh Warner Jr., who died on June 26 at age 92 in Hobe Sound, Fla. The public probably …

Let’s Go Shopping With ‘Mr. Selfridge’!

Poor Mr. Selfridge, freighted with comparisons before he even opens for business. Will the Masterpiece Classics series that debuts tonight (3/31) on PBS become the new Downton Abbey? After all, Downton’s  timeslot successor is also set in Edwardian England, and comes complete with upper crust accents and cantilevered hats. Will audiences be able to accept Jeremy Piven as pioneering showman of shopping Harry Gordon Selfridge after seeing him for eight seasons as f-bomb hurling Hollywood agent Ari Gold on Entourage? Well, …

‘Downton’s’ Season 3 Brings Later in Life Love, Match-up of Matriarchs and More

“Downton Abbey’s” third season rolls out Sunday (Jan. 6) with a fresh batch of episodes that, judging by the first five, are as savory and delicious as ever.  Yes, Shirley MacLaine is aboard as rich, social climbing New Yorker Martha Levinson, mother of Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern).  And, yes, her scenes with Dame Maggie Smith as Dowager Countess Violet Crawley are all fans heard and hoped they would be — a new defining moment in the Anglo American special relationship, class versus crass …

TV Full of Horrors, Not All On Purpose

I’ve spent more hours than is healthy hunting for a good show to highlight this week, and it’s been hell. Really. Yes, I am well aware that  American Horror Story: Asylum has critics and fans out there giddy, and that the FX offering beat ABC’s Nashville and NBC’s Chicago Fire in the ratings for its premiere last week. A series this newsworthy and star-filled (Jessica Lange, Joseph Fiennes, Jamie Cromwell, etc.) cannot go unmentioned. So I’ll give the devil his due. When it comes to torture, bloodletting …

Eclectic Group of Stars in ‘Dust to Dreams’ Special

 I’ll admit it:  I still get a teenage-style thrill out of seeing favorite music stars performing together for the first time — like Carole King with Jennifer Hudson and Mavis Staples. Is that cool or what? The threesome are among the highlights of this Friday’s (9/21) From Dust to Dreams: Opening Night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts special on PBS, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. They’re part of a lineup of luminaries that ranges from John Fogerty …

Good TV This Week: The National Memorial Day Concert

The National Memorial Day Concert is more than just a music event.  It is, of course, a tradition in itself, a TV destination for millions of us who wish to honor the original intent of the holiday as a day of remembrance for those who have died in service to our country.  Jessica Sanchez, “American Idol’s” 16-year-old powerhouse vocalist, is on the bill this year, along with Colin Powell, Dennis Franz, Ellen Burstyn, Natalie Cole, Trace Adkins and Selma Blair.  …