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Thursday, February 4

Editing PBS Masterpiece Presentations

Have you ever wondered why so many original BBC adaptations of the classics we love, including Jane Austen's, are cut down for PBS Masterpiece Classic? Erin Delaney, an editor at PBS, explained in a Barnes and Noble discussion thread last year, why so many scenes seem to be cut out, such as the donkey scene with Mr and Mrs Elton at the Strawberry picking party at Donwell Abbey in the current production of Emma or the bath tub scene in which Catherine fantasizes about Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey 2007:


Masterpiece gets involved in these productions at various points in the process, depending on the show. Sometimes, yes, we generate suggestions for which books are ripe for adaptation. Sometimes we get involved at the scripting/casting stage. And sometimes we do buy the shows after they're finished. Basically we're looking for, well, Masterpieces!

The air dates on PBS differ from those in England primarily because whichever channel in England is airing the program has its own schedule to manage, as does PBS. Masterpiece airs on Sunday night and we might want to make sure, for example, that we have five Sundays in a row, uninterrupted by holidays, to air something like Little Dorrit. There have been occasions when Masterpiece has aired a title in the U.S. before it aired in England.
Regarding the question about editing to time... Sometimes we might feel that the show would benefit by being slightly tighter. But more commonly, editing is due to odd lengths. The BBC has long had a very free-wheeling schedule. If you've travelled in England, you may have noted that programs might start at 5 minutes past the hour, 10 minutes past, etc. This flexibility allows the BBC to air shows of odd lengths. American television, by contrast, is really ruled by the clock! We need Masterpiece to begin promptly at 9:00. And whatever show is airing next needs Masterpiece to end promptly as well.

Because these films are works of art in their own right (yes, I do believe this), decisions have been made all along, about what to leave in and what to take out. The book's author made such decisions, the screenwriter made more, each performer makes decisions about how to say each line, the director makes still more choices, and so forth. Each iteration of the film is its own piece of art.

Reading some of the books has helped me on occasion to understand parts of the puzzle that may have gotten altered throughout this artistic process...

For the DVD's that you can purchase and whether you receive the full versions or not, please read Cinthia's answer in the comments.

14 comments:

Marissa said...

Cool thanks for the insider info. I wonder if the DVD will include all the scenes?

Nadders23 said...

Are the scenes which are cut from the airing on PBS also cut from the DVD which is being sold on the website or are they included?

Vic said...

Yes, generally the DVD purchased in America is with the scenes cut out. One can often glimpse the cut scenes in YouTube videos, which often feature them.

Muse in the Fog said...

How interesting! Thanks for posting :)

dizzheart said...

Well, why is it that scenes are also cut on the DVD? As DVDs have no fixed length, that makes no sense at all to me! But thanks for telling us that, as now I know to order the UK versions instead of the US ones!

Maria L said...

Well here's a suggestion---cut out the intros and they'll have more room for the cut scenes. As much as I like Laura Linney as an actress, the material they give her to say is completely inane and adds nothing to the presentation. This not Alastair Cooke-worthy.

And given what usually follows Masterpiece in our neck of the woods, it wouldn't be any great loss to go over time a little and cut some other program, or do a little fund-raising or show some of those mini-features that accompany most of these productions, or air some of PBS' non-commercials...

Plus--it is all a load of baloney as far as Emma goes, since the BBC managed to show it in four 60-minute installments--which is obviously not an odd length at all.

Regardless of PBS' lame excuses for continuing to cut these productions, there is no excuse whatsoever for issuing edited DVDs and selling them to unsuspecting Americans.

Nonna Beach said...

I will preface this small rant by saying I am grateful for the shows we do get on PBS but I have been mad about this little secret editing for some time but then, it's PBS...THEY get taxpayer money to operate and as usual, WE don't get our money's worth !!!

Cinthia said...

Regarding the DVD's I'm afraid I must disagreee a little bit with Vic's statement.

In the past couple of years, with the most recent adaptations we have been able to observe some pattern.

PBS cuts everything for broadcast, but on the region 1 DVD's there are two ways.

1) If it is WGHB (that is PBS again) directly manufacturing the DVD, the version included is the cut one. This is what happened with the NA2 (2007) and MP3 (2007) versions (and I believe the same goes for the Jane Eyre 2006)

2) However if it is BBC Video the one in charge of manufacturing the DVD's, BBC offers the complete version. As it ocurred with P3 (2007) -Eventhough BBC did not produce it, but it was given the distribution rights outside UK- and S&S3 (2008), which were complete.

Since BBC Video is manufacturing the region 1 DVD of E4 (2009), we hope that it will be the complete version again. Furthermore, the time lenght and the additional material listed at Amazon US coincides with what is listed for the British region 2 DVD at Amazon UK.

Cinthia

Odessa said...

I fully understand cutting for time, but it makes me sad that the DVDs are comparably cut. Also, sometimes the program is over a good 5-8 minutes before the next one starts, they could show some of the cut scenes in that time. I don't need to see a preview for this season of Masterpiece, I'm already watching it. I would like to see said masterpieces in their entirety.

ChaChaneen said...

Very interesting! I didn't know that about UK tv time. I noticed it the first time I rented Persuasion and saw a deleted scene with the gentlemen on the cob getting hammered with waves and rain.

Vic said...

Thank you, Cinthia. I hope this clears the situation up for those of you who have questions. I shall refer people to Cinthia's comments on my post. For my part, I have only the PBS DVDs, which are the cut versions. I also own BBC VHS tapes of older classic Jane Austen adaptations, but have no way to compare them to the shows that were aired at that time on PBS Masterpiece Theatre.

Laurie Viera Rigler said...

I'm with Maria. I was not happy to hear that once again, a Masterpiece film was cut for the American audience. In my opinion there is no excuse for cutting these shows, especially on a network that has no commercials. Much as I love PBS and the fine actors they hire to intro their shows, I would much rather sacrifice said intros (not to mention previews of coming shows) so that those of us on this side of the pond can see the works in their entirety and as the filmmakers intended them to be seen. As for editing the DVDs--it makes even less sense to cut them. Why not sell the uncut version and offer viewers something extra?

Ruth said...

I HATE the fact that PBS cuts these programs. During the mystery season last year I noticed that a show would be scheduled from 8-9:30, and that with the silly little intros and the fact that the show would end at 9:24 or so, 6-10 minutes of the broadcast time would be filled with PBS filler and commercials. Thankfully, like Cinthia points out, when the BBC releases a DVD version it is uncut. It's sort of like a treasure hunt to discover the missing scenes. However, I HATE it when WGBH/PBS releases a program, because there the cut version is provided. I think it's tragic that PBS released Northanger Abbey 2007 in the same year that BBC/Warner released the superb Sense & Sensibility, uncut.

Gina said...

I agree with Maria that the Linney intros are terrible. I know at least one woman who stopped watching "Little Dorrit" after Linney slammed Dickens in her intro to one of the broadcasts. Way to shoot yourself in the foot, PBS.