Acorn Media are a DVD production and marketing company who specialize in bringing the very best British TV series to American audiences. A couple of years ago they added a new label Athena, this branch specializes in incredibly high quality documentary programming. With over 20 years of experience the Acorn catalog is second to none. Numerically the BBC may be superior, however the BBC catalog is hampered by its choices of source material. Acorn on the other hand can graze the entire all of the rich and fertile lands.

Envy is not a sin that I often commit. But I have to admit that I am envious of Don Klees. As Vice President of Programming he basically gets paid to watch TV! Of course Don tries to soften the blow by explaining that he has to deal with all sorts of technical and legal matters associated with bringing these programs to the US audience. Hogwash I say! While I have never seen Don Klees office, in minds eye it consists of a couple of Lay-z-Boy chairs an audio visual home theater system that we mere mortals can only dream of, and a remote control 🙂

OK, I was just jesting. There are many challenges in bringing this material to the US audience. Cultural and social differences can play a huge part in determining programs that work and those that do not.

There are very few (if any) titles that I have not enjoyed on the Acorn and Athena labels. Next week sees the release of several new titles and Don Klees graciously took some time out to talk with me about them.

Discovering Hamlet (Athena) is one of the finest documentaries that I have had the pleasure to watch in quite some time. To many people Shakespeare just represents some high school classroom drudgery, but to others it holds so much more. Discovering Hamlet follows well known actor Kenneth Branagh as he readies himself for opening night, his producer and inspiration is no other than Derek Jacobi (I Claudius, Cadfael, etc, etc). As if this was not enough star power for the documentary, Patrick Stewart was brought in to narrate.

In talking to Don Klees about this release, there was a true feeling that this DVD has a special place in his heart. It also demonstrates some of the Acorn ethic. Bringing this documentary to the store shelf was not just burning it to DVD and let it rip. While it is the norm to include ‘Bonus Features’ these tend to be rather canned biographies, or out takes that hit the cutting room floor. Discovering Hamlet’ was a different beast. Don met Sir Derek Jacobi and was present while the interview was conducted that is included in this great DVD.

Next week also heralds the arrival of Garrow’s Law on the Acorn label. This series is compelling on many levels. It joins fiction with fact in a period setting. William Garrow is credited with coining the term ‘Innocent until proven guilty’. This series follows English barrister William Garrows as he tackles tough cases at the Old Bailey in London. This is a period drama, but one firmly set in factual events.

I have merely touched on two of the releases due next week.

Looking forward in time a couple of months Acorn is set to release their most ambitious release ever. There are few people that have not heard of the series Upstairs Downstairs. All five seasons, 68 episodes in total, will be available as a 21 DVD set. For any lover of British drama, this has to be the apex of the genre.

Don Klees and I discussed many other topics, he is without question an expert in the field of British drama. If you missed our live broadcast you can listen to the replay here.

For information about any of the series we discussed I recommend that you head to www.acornonline.com. The site also has the entire Acorn and Athena catalog online.

Simon Barrett

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