More on WGBH and WCRB

For those who are interested, the Globe has a great column about WGBH’s acquisition of WCRB.  They’re cutting the Friday BSO broadcast from Symphony Hall, and they’re not planning on improving the ‘CRB signal, but there is at least an all-classical station in the Greater Boston area.  Read the article if you care about the classical music situation on the radio.

On the television side of the ‘GBH house, Cranford‘s going to making a return appearance on Masterpiece, in anticipation of Return to Cranford.  I liked Cranford, and I’m sure I’ll like Return to Cranford.  That’s because I’m the target audience for Masterpiece: former English major who doesn’t have the time to read everything, but who will gladly sit through a six-hour production of some random books by Mrs. Gaskell.

Masterpiece, of course, wasn’t always called that: it was “Masterpiece Theatre” and “Mystery!”; Masterpiece Theatre was hosted by men who were on sets that almost looked like real places, narrating words that they could have actually written, and Mystery! was hosted by Diana Rigg and had that wonderful opening credit sequence illustrated by Edward Gorey.  These were the kinds of programs that easily conned people like me into thinking that we were part of a cultural elite.

I don’t like how Masterpiece has now become Masterpiece Classic, Contemporary, and Mystery, hosted in front of a weird colored screen, by actors who narrate a bland introduction that adds nothing to my enjoyment of the program.  I know that part of this is to attract a younger, broader audience, but I don’t know that Laura Linney is going to be attracting anyone Russell Baker didn’t.

I still like the vast majority of the actual content, though.  A month ago, they had on a great two-part series called Collision, which starred the wonderful Douglas Henshall, from Primeval.  It was the story of a police investigator who looks into the causes of a multi-car pileup; one of the cars in the accident is owned by a character played by Paul McGann, who was the Eighth Doctor.  He plays a really rich dude who falls in love with a young woman who works at a highway rest stop restaurant.  Unfortunately, he’s married, and she’s engaged, but he convinces her to run away with him.  (She does a lot of hemming and hawing before she agrees; meanwhile, I’m yelling at the television — “Listen, chick, you’ve got the only Doctor besides numbers Five and Nine who could remotely be called sexy — much as they keep trying to push number Ten (also the Masterpiece Contemporary host) as irresistible — so for the love of all that is good, just run off to Hamburg with this guy.”  I believe I also used my mother’s favorite phrase, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one,” a philosophy that I’ve never had the opportunity to find the truth in.)

This wouldn’t be so bad, except it was a somewhat similar situation to that in Bleak House between Esther and John Jarndyce.  Esther pines away over some dude when she’s got this hot (well, hot to me, but he also appeared in my husband’s favorite movie and he’s really from Perthshire, so what’s not to love?), older rich guy interested in her.  In reality, wouldn’t most of us take the hot older guy who’s also rich versus some random guy who’s gone to India for years because he has some mistaken notions about helping the less fortunate?

Masterpiece, please, you don’t need to do market research.  No one who watches Gossip Girl will suddenly see the error of their TV-watching ways because Alan Cumming hosts the Mystery portion of your show, which doesn’t even have the decency to show Edward Gorey’s party guests in their full glory.  (Also, let’s keep the fact that I watch Gossip Girl religiously out of this equation for the minute.)  I am your demographic, and this is what I want: some chick to live happily ever after with an adorable older rich guy who will cater to her every whim.  Is that too much to ask?

Christmas Books of the Week

I’m a bit inspired by Paulie’s mention of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which we’ll be reading next week in the edition illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, and I thought I’d share some of our other favorite Christmas books.  We love to read, and we love to collect books and visit the library.  If you find that I haven’t included one of your favorites, please mention it in the comments of this post. 

I bought The Christmas Story, illustrated with paintings and etchings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when Another Story was closing and everything in the store was on deep discount.  I love that the words are right from the Bible; I don’t think the story needs any adornment.  The artwork is beautiful, and the book itself is in pretty decent shape considering its age.  The Met seems to have published an updated version of this book, and they’ve also put together a really beautiful website full of illustrations that were included in this book (and plenty that were not).  This is probably my favorite telling of the Christmas story.

We love Robert Sabuda’s pop-up books in our house.  We’re blessed enough to have The Twelve Days of Christmas (bought at the Worcester Public Library book sale last month) and The Night Before Christmas, both of which are stylishly done in mostly white — which doesn’t seem like it would work, but it does.  Sabuda is the king of the pop-up book.  You should check out his website for tips on how to make pop-ups.

We’re in the middle of reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which I’ve never read before.  It’s about some really mean siblings (they beat kids up, smoke cigars, and generally wreak havoc) who wheedle their way into taking every major role in a Christmas pageant.  My elder son has requested that I read the following passage (in which Imogene, one of the mean sisters, threatens the girl who always plays Mary in the pageant) about ten times in the past couple of days, which tells you how great the whole book is: 

“And next spring,” Imogene went on, squinching up her eyes, “when the pussy willows come out, I’ll stick a pussy willow so far down your ear that nobody can reach it – and it’ll sprout there, and it’ll grow and grow, and you’ll spend the rest of your life with a pussy-willow bush growing out your ear.”

Nine Days to Christmas, by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida, is the story of a five-year-old Mexican girl who is going to be able to attend a posada (Christmas party) and have her very first piñata.  (This was also another library book sale acquisition.)  She becomes extremely attached to her piñata, which is shaped like a star, and doesn’t want to have it broken.  The book won the Caldecott Medal for 1960 and it’s easy to see why — the illustrations are stylish and charming, and Ets is a writer who never forgot what it was like to be a child.

I’d heard a lot of good things about The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden with illustrations by Barbara Cooney, and then I picked it up at — you guessed it — a library book sale.  It was even better than I’d heard.  It’s the story of a girl named Ivy who lives in an orphanage.  At Christmas, she’s sent to stay at another orphanage — one for babies — and decides to get off her train early.  She’s wishing for a grandmother that she can live with; a doll named Holly is wishing that she’ll be a Christmas present for the right girl.  There’s a mean owl named Abracadabra, a bunch of fortuitous moments, and a happy ending.  I have to keep the tissues close at hand, though, because this book makes me cry uncontrollably.

As I look at the list, I know I’ve forgotten some (most notably, the Nutcracker, illustrated by Sendak or Zwerger) but the goal is the same: to get them excited about Christmas, to help them remember the point of the holiday, and to create traditions that they will remember and want to incorporate when they have children of their own.  I read to my children to create a special time when we can share laughter and reflections, and that is in season no matter what time of the year it is.