Not many Houston galas have a butler doing the honors. But Mr. Rodgers, the rising star of Channel 8's Manor of Speaking, the locally-produced talk show that dissects every episode of the monster PBS hit, Downton Abbey, was out in full force to welcome guests to Houston Public Media's first major gala fundraiser Tuesday night at the Houstonian.
Titled "Masterpiece Evening," the event combined the impeccable taste of the long-running PBS series Masterpiece with a Texas good time. The Events Co. transformed the hotel ballroom into a sumptuous drawing room, with patterned damask tablecloths and gorgeous bouquets of roses, peonies and hydrangeas artfully displaced on each table in silver mint julep cups and coffee tins.
Titled "Masterpiece Evening," the event combined the impeccable taste of the long-running PBS series Masterpiece with a Texas good time.
The featured guest was longtime Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton who engaged in a lively interview session with Channel 8 host Ernie Manouse while both sat in padded chairs that looked like the set when Alistair Cooke hosted what was then called Masterpiece Theatre in the early 1970s.
Eaton, who recently authored a book about her 25-year career as producer of the most popular and beloved PBS show, admitted that she originally turned down its latest hit, Downton Abbey, because she thought it was too similar to an update of Upstairs, Downstairs, which was in production at the same time.
She got another chance after the major networks and cable channels, including HBO, also turned it down. "By then I had woken up and smelled the coffee and had been tipped that Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern were going to be in it," she explained.
"Who knew that it would be the rising tide for a lot of (PBS) stations around the system? It gives everybody the opportunity to be excited."
She allowed that Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe has probably been Masterpiece's most rewarding discovery (at age 9 he was cast in the production of David Copperfield) and revealed that her "true favorite" Downton Abbey character is the nefarious Thomas Barrow because the actor who portrays him (Rob James-Collier) is "so warm hearted and funny and smart . . . a really good actor and nothing like Thomas."
And she went out on a limb and predicted that the "next Downton Abbey" could be a series called Indian Summers that starts filming next month for airing in late 2015 or possibly 2016. Set on the subcontinent of India from the mid-1930s through 1947 (when India achieved independence from Britain), it includes a lot of Downton ingredients — a romantic setting, a gripping story and an attractive cast, led by a handsome single British raj, his sister with a dark past and assorted other intriguing British and Indian characters.
And she went out on a limb and predicted that the "next Downton Abbey" could be a series called Indian Summers that starts filming next month.
"In the very first episode you discover that somebody's involved with the wrong person and somebody gets murdered," she revealed.
"But if it doesn't work, forget I said it."
Lynn Wyatt chaired the evening and her presence drew an A-list crowd, including Linda McReynolds, Pat Breen, Diane Lokey Farb, Phoebe Tudor, Joanne Herring, Cynthia Petrello, Richard and Ginni Mithoff, Melanie Gray and Mark Wawro, Anne Mendelsohn, Judy Nyquist, Melinda and Sam Stubbs, Karen Love, Sue and Lester Smith, William Middleton and Andrea White. Wyatt's son, Steve Wyatt, accompanied her.
After welcoming the crowd of more than 275, Houston Public Media executive director and general manager Lisa Trapani Shumate asked for a moment of silence to honor Roy Cullen, who died a few days ago. The Cullen family are longtime supporters of the University of Houston and Houston Public Media.
Shumate also singled out philanthropist Ann Harder as "our angel from Beaumont." Harder, who attended the gala, has been a longtime supporter of Houston public television and radio.
The evening raised more than $450,000 for Houston Public Media, which has recently reorganized its radio, TV and digital operations into a single entity, with one website and a new logo.