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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

David Tennant to host PBS’s ‘Masterpiece Contemporary’? really?

Everyone’s been emailing me about this, and I gotta say, I’m mystified. Sez The Hollywood Reporter:

NEW YORK — David Tennant is the new host of PBS’ “Masterpiece Contemporary.”

Tennant will make his debut on the long-running public TV anthology this fall, its producing station, WGBH, announced Wednesday.

The 38-year-old Scottish actor, who follows past “Masterpiece” hosts such as Alan Cumming and Laura Linney, played the title role in the long-running BBC sci-fi series “Doctor Who.” His screen credits include “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

“Masterpiece Contemporary” returns on the Public Broadcasting Service in October with “Endgame,” a drama about the final days of apartheid in South Africa starring William Hurt and Jonny Lee Miller. It premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

If someone had asked me to guess what Tennant would do after leaving Doctor Who, I don’t think this would have crossed my mind as even the wildest of remote possibilites. Now, I’m sure we’ll be seeing Tennant doing lots of other things besides introducing new TV dramas, but I gotta wonder: What’s in it for him with this job? If he’s hoping to gain some name recognition in the United States, well, this certainly can’t hurt, but don’t the 12 Anglophiles still watching PBS already know who he is? Okay, I’m exaggerating, but even if it’s a different million or so viewers watching Masterpiece than the million or so who saw Tennant on Doctor Who in the U.S. on the Sci Fi Channel, is this really the best way to build the Tennant brand? Surely actually appearing in one of the dramas Masterpiece will air would be better for that.

It can’t be about money: PBS is hardly known for lavish spending. It can’t be about creative satisfaction: how much of that can there be in this kind of job?

Maybe this is a case for Masterpiece Mystery to solve…



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  • Breninar

    Came over to see if you had heard…
    Nice bit of info here at the wellspring:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/contemporary/host.html.

  • I think he has a strong teaching mission in his psyche. Having brought a whole new audience to Shakespeare, he now is hoping to have the same effect for PBS.

    He seemed very at home in that Red Nose sketch with Catherine Tate where he played an English teacher, didn’t he? :)

  • Poly in London

    This is a very low level commitment, and therefore there might not be much thought behind it. He may be appearing in some of the dramas shown (Recovery, Learners come to mind), and he was asked to do it, and he said yes. A day’s work, won’t take more than that.

  • Ryan H

    He probably taped all the introductions in one sitting. Probably never even left the UK. So this was at most a couple days work in exchange for an easy paycheque and some minor exposure in a new market.

  • Ann

    Maybe he has got the hosting bug, after the comic relief presenting?…Whatever the reason, he isn’t one to shy away from most things….I mean despite his fame to claim with DW, you will still find him doing the odd bodd advert…and as others have said, it probably won’t take much of his time recording a few introductions….
    best of luck to DT no matter what he does…

  • He’s already appeared on Masterpiece Theatre (before the big “Masterpiece…” rebranding) in Casanova.

    So now we’ve had Gillian Anderson (Classic) and Alan Cumming (Mystery!) and now Tennant (Contemporary). In a way, perhaps, Rebecca Eaton (Masterpiece producer) is trying to lure in the geek audience…

  • Mimi

    OK, I had a response in my head, and then Ryan H. beat me to it. So: what he said. And a tip of the hat to Ryan H.

  • Mim

    I’m with Ryan and Mimi. This seems like the various voiceovers he’s done – the documentary about doctors on Everest, Swarm, etc.

    He seems to plan his major moves pretty carefully (ie DW, Shakespeare, etc) but then fits in whatever small jobs appeal to him on the side, when mere mortals would be relaxing!

  • Dianne A

    I am in agreement with the other posters here. DT seems to never sleep, what with DW; voiceovers; narration; audiobooks (am listening to his Quite Ugly One Morning at the moment, and loving it!); publicity; etc. this guy doesn’t know the meaning of rest.

    Easy job, exposure, and following in the footsteps of fellow Scot – Alan Cummings.

  • Gee

    It’s a start at getting more widely known in the US. Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter are already in LA and RTD has recently been spotted queueing for a work visa at the US Embassy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see DT doing something more substantive there, although I can’t see a long running series on the cards. A movie role perhaps?

    DT strikes me as being very savvy about his career. I found an old interview where he listed the roles he would like to play in future and a number of those have already been ticked off.

    DT has always done lots of varied projects, even with the overwhelming workload of Doctor Who. He fitted in a cameo for the film “1939” between Hamlet finishing its run in Stratford and transferring to London. He’s done several narrations for documentaries shown recently, plus one for an astronomy exhibition, hosted and guested on radio shows, and isn’t too proud to do voiceovers for Tesco supermarket ads!! This new gig looks just his thing!

  • Melissa

    It doesn’t surprise me, honestly. I’ve found that good character actors are often the hosts for Masterpiece Theatre. It’s a great way to introduce them to the audience here in the States. Gillian Anderson was well-known here due to the X-Files, of course. I hope it’s a good intro to get Tennant known over here, too.

  • gavrielle

    This is a smart, professional move. The point of joining PBS as a host is not simply to get easy money. The hosts of these series get invited to all the right parties and meet all the right people – the monied elite who fund the network (which is made possible solely by donations), support the arts, and invest in Broadway shows or Hollywood films. Producers and directors like Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, et al, not only watch PBS programming, but are important contributors, who also attend screenings to which David will be invited. Being a mere performer in a drama on the network does not give him access to these people. Being a presenter does.

    It also gives him prestige. Much more than he would attain if he started his career in the US by doing anything other than Hamlet on Broadway. Who knows? Maybe that’s next! In my opinion, “David Tennant, award-winning dramatic actor of stage and screen” is a better career move than “David Tennant, Hollywood heartthrob”.

  • Barb

    DT seems to be a workaholic (plus he doesn’t limit himself to just television work but does the audiobooks, radio, plays, etc.) and I doubt this will take much of his time anyway to film so he can continue with his post-DW work. I’ll happily watch the intros that he does for the show (more likely than not, I would have already purchased the show in R2 format already so wouldn’t necessary watch the edited version of the show).

  • Gail

    Gee above mentioned David narrating documentaries. He has done a recent one that is on Youtube, if you can’t get it in other ways. It is about Monty Python and the town of Aberystwyth in Wales, where the film was banned for 30 years until and actress in the movie became mayor. It was written and directed by James Strong who directed some episodes of DW.

    David just adds so much to these types of shows with his narration.

  • MaryAnn

    I hope it didn’t sound like I was implying that I was disappointed in Our David by this choice. As everyone has quite lucidly pointed out, there are likely not-so-obvious benefits to a gig like this. And I wish Tennant only the best.

    In a way, perhaps, Rebecca Eaton (Masterpiece producer) is trying to lure in the geek audience…

    That might be the most interesting point made here. Geeks know who Tennant is — but some may not be so much drawn to traditional TV Brit dramas as they might be. But between Gillian Anderson and Tennant, that could change…

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