Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why No Dostoyevsky?

No matter how lush the production values and engaging the acting performances in PBS Masterpiece Theatre programs like "Wolf Hall" are, surely I can't be the only one thinking the Henry VIII and the Queen Elizabeth sagas have been done to death. I imagine too that I am not the only one wondering why those in charge of programming seem to feel that viewers are only interested in the history of England and the authors of England. PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service not Public British Shows. It is as if a sort of psychological TV imperialism exists. PBS is a broadcaster and a distributor so all of the program choices are not theirs, but who is deciding what Americans will watch and why are they almost always selecting English authors? Why no Dostoyevsky? Or Cervantes? Or Moliere? And, in this age of interconnectedness, why are there no Asian or African authors represented on Masterpiece Theatre? Admittedly, I never tire of Shakespeare but the suggestion that there is no viewership for the plays of Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Brecht, or Beckett and other great playwrights seems limiting and somewhat patronizing. It is as if those in charge of selecting programs for Masterpiece Theatre believe Americans have no interest in the literature and theater of countries and cultures other than England.

American novelists and playwrights are represented on the excellent PBS biography series American Masters and the PBS history series American Experience. "August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand," a documentary presented by American Masters and  "Eugene O'Neill: A Documentary Film," presented by American Experience are examples of that excellence. Biographies and excerpts from the works of great American authors are presented but rarely are adaptations of their novels or televised productions of their plays presented. America was and is still a nation of immigrants - immigrants from many countries, not just England. It would be lovely to see their work on PBS. The novels of Isaac Bashevis Singer come immediately to my mind.

The words "award-winning," "peerless," and "intelligent" are often attached to PBS programs because they belong there. Still, representation of the classics, both novels and plays, of great authors from countries other than England and America would be welcome. A new princess has just been born into England's royal family. Why not a new approach to world literature for Masterpiece Theatre? Why not put that much-married Henry to rest for a while and let other historical and literary figures onstage.

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