Bringing classic characters from literature and TV to a new audience and building off cultural trends is a formula that’s working for Masterpiece on PBS. A recent New York Times article highlighted PBS’ efforts to compete with premium cable channels with, shows like Downton Abbey and the new Sherlock reboot. And several others coming up on the network and at Masterpiece in particular, are taking similar cues — not just remaking the classics, but reimagining the characters in more modern times and ways.
The new Inspector Morse episode, Endeavor, features the detective as a young man, played by Shaun Evans, who is famous in the U.K. for starring in a hit series there called The Sweeney (yet another classic 1970s show that got a modern kickstart). Playing off the Mad Men 1960s-era boom in recent network TV, this new Inspector Morse is living in the Oxford of the ’60s. In a fun twist, Abigail Thaw — the daughter of John Thaw, who played Morse in the original series — makes a key cameo in the first episode, which PBS previewed at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena.
Thaw plays a newspaper editor, and when she meets Morse, they share an inside joke moment where she says, “Haven’t I met you before?”
No one wanted to just do a remake, Thaw said, but “there was obviously something interesting and dynamic about Morse that struck a chord with U.K. audiences.”
Endeavor will air on PBS this May.
Steven Moffat’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes puts the detective in modern times, texting and using new technology to solve crimes — along with his cunning mind.
With Morse set in the ’60s, there’s “great cars, great music, but it’s a challenge for the writer,” Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton said. “There was very little crime solving technology in the ’60s, so makes it a more fun role. With Sherlock, technology is essential to what he does.”
Bringing new energy to old stories may work for mysteries, but will it work for Dickens? A duo of the author’s classics for his 200th birthday might not seem modern, but with Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame playing Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, this version seems anything but stodgy, save maybe for the corsets. There’s no supernatural activity in the world of Dickens, but Anderson said she used personal experience to connect with the evil Miss Havisham, whom Anderson was careful not to describe as crazy.
“I think she’s in a lot of pain. I also think that one of the ways she feeds that pain in the same way that an addict feeds their pain,” said Anderson. “Where I reconcile that is in my own understanding of where that lies for me in my own life and how I scratch that itch and to have compassion for people, one, humans, her, who have that level on pain that they need to inflict it on others.”
The Dickens specials, Great Expectations and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, air on PBS in April.
Will you be watching the new versions, or should PBS not mess with the classics?