Russell Baker was not the only ink-stained wretch considered for the job as host of PBS’ tony Masterpiece Theatre. The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist was announced recently as successor to the venerable Alistair Cooke, who retired after 22 years in the wing chair of high-culture serial drama (Baker begins his stint next October). But, sources delicately whisper, others who circulated on Masterpiece‘s shortlist included beloved CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, Rumpole of the Bailey creator John Mortimer, and NBC newsman Garrick Utley — who nominated himself. Theatrical candidates included Angela Lansbury, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons (and his Brideshead Revisited costar Anthony Andrews), Ian Richardson, Maggie Smith, and Upstairs Downstairs alums Simon Williams and Jean Marsh.
Executive producer Rebecca Eaton won’t comment on the also-rans — except for two: ”Prince Charles had a following,” she confides. ”And Dame Edna had a ground swell of interest.”