PBS' 'Masterpiece' Lands Title Sponsor

Courtesy of Masterpiece

Viking River Cruises partners with the public broadcasting series six years after ExxonMobile exit.

BEVERLY HILLS -- After several years without a title sponsor -- and the precious financial support that comes with it -- Masterpiece has sealed a deal with Viking River Cruises. Rebecca Eaton, Masterpiece executive producer, made the announcement Sunday at the Television Critics Association press tour.

The sponsorship comes six years after ExxonMobil ended its partnership with the series after more than 30 years.

The deal with Viking, a luxury river cruise company, was certainly spurred by the success of Masterpiece series Downton Abbey, Sherlock and Upstairs Downstairs.

Eaton noted that ratings for Masterpiece are up 43 percent this year, which she characterized as “a gift from God.” She did not reveal how much the sponsorship is worth, but it goes into effect in the fourth quarter of this year.

“Their people are our people,” said Eaton, noting the compatibility among Viking customers and Masterpiece viewers. “We are truly a marriage made in heaven. We all have very high hopes for it to be an ongoing and successful marriage.”

Downton Abbey -- which is created by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and stars Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Dan Stevens, Siobhan Finneran and Michelle Dockery -- has been a blockbuster for PBS and Masterpiece. The ITV series was watched by 13 million viewers in the U.S. and has been sold to 200 countries and territories. It’s garnered 11 Emmy nominations including outstanding miniseries and Eaton said PBS, with some help from distributor NBC Universal International, will mount an Emmy campaign for Downton, a first for Masterpiece, said Eaton.

Downton Abbey II bows Jan. 8 on PBS. It begins two years into World War I, but the series’ plot points are being closely guarded.

“People will live. People will die,” said Eaton. “Marriages will be made. Babies will be born. I can’t possibly tell you who any of these things will happen to.”

Masterpiece has also had success with the reboot of Upstairs Downstairs; the second cycle of six episodes goes into production in October and will bow on PBS in 2013.

Additionally, Sherlock, the contemporary version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, returns in May 2012.

PBS' Masterpiece Mystery also will resurrect Inspector Morse via a prequel called Endeavour, a reference to Morse's first name. The project is from PBS and ITV Studios. British actor Shaun Evans will play the young Inspector Morse, a role originated by John Thaw. It is set to air in 2012 on Mystery