"Masterpiece" PBS "Victoria"

"Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton (seated left) and "Victoria" writer Daisy Goodwin with stars Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes by satellite from England, where they are filming Season 2. (PBS photo)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. • PBS’ “Nova” plans coast-to-coast coverage of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, gathering footage from public TV stations from Oregon to South Carolina and following the path with two NASA jets.

KETC (Channel 9) will contribute, potentially with shots from the Gateway Arch and Jefferson Barracks. “Nova” producers who badly wanted an Arch shot were disappointed to learn that downtown will not experience the total eclipse.

Cable’s Science Channel is also planning extensive coverage of the event.

For “Nova,” the purpose of tracking the eclipse is to gain scientific knowledge, not merely to gawk (through paper safety glasses) at a spectacle that won’t be repeated on this scale for 99 years.

But really, are we overreacting?

Filmmaker and “Nova” producer Chris Schmidt says no, given how much of the country the event will affect.

“The eclipse is a 70-mile-wide shadow that will travel at 1,600 miles per hour,” Schmidt said after a “Nova” session alarmingly titled “Black Hole Apocalypse.” But the eclipse shouldn’t be scary except for one thing: traffic.

“At least 200 million people live within a day’s drive of the eclipse,” Schmidt says. What that means, he advises: Don’t drive if you don’t have to.

“This could be as close to a zombie apocalypse as you’ll ever see,” he adds with a wink. “Highways clogged with cars, all stopped dead.”

‘Little Women’ coming to PBS

“Masterpiece” executive producer Rebecca Eaton had so much news for TV critics Monday morning that she had to number the entries.

• “American drama. We are doing American drama,” Eaton said, answering questions from some critics about why “Masterpiece” is so British. In fact, “Little Women” is in production, with the BBC on board. The Louisa May Alcott adaptation will air next year.

• “Masterpiece” is making its first feature film, “The Chaperone,” about actress Louise Brooks. Elizabeth McGovern of “Downton Abbey” found the Laura Moriarty novel and brought it to ‘Abbey’ writer Julian Fellowes. The movie will air on “Masterpiece” after its limited big-screen run.

• Benedict Cumberbatch will produce (via his new company, SunnyMarch) and star in “The Child in Time,” adapted from the Ian McEwan novel. In the story, Cumberbatch’s character takes his 3-year-old daughter to a supermarket, where the child vanishes. The 90-minute drama, set for next year, explores the effect on the couple’s marriage.

• Vanessa Redgrave will star in “Man in an Orange Shirt,” to air next June during Gay Pride Month. The drama from Patrick Gale tells two gay love stories, 60 years apart, with Redgrave as a grandmother.

• With Season 2 of “The Durrels in Corfu” due, “Masterpiece” sponsor Viking River Cruises has added a stop in Corfu. Eaton praised the high-end travel company for its support, which continues next year.

Even queens have issues, “Victoria” proves

Season 2 of “Victoria,” due in January on PBS’ “Masterpiece,” will find cracks appearing in the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, writer Daisy Goodwin says.

In addition to Victoria’s need to rule while also being Albert’s partner, the fact that they became parents to five children in four years (for an eventual total of eight before Albert’s death in 1861) also produced stress.

“Victoria desperately needed contraception,” Goodwin told TV critics meeting in Los Angeles.

As Season 2 begins, it’s 1840, and Victoria is pregnant with their second, conceived just a month after daughter Vicky’s birth. “She hated being pregnant,” Goodwin says, quoting the queen as saying newborns were like frogs to her.

Jenna Coleman, who plays Victoria, has read many of the queen’s copious diary entries, searching for those written on the day the script covers.

Before joining Tom Hughes, who plays Albert, for a press conference via satellite, Coleman had been shooting an episode for the new season.

“I’ve been filming Christmas today, with snow and toys and geese,” Coleman said.

Quote unquote

Martin Sheen, who played President Jed Bartlet on “The West Wing,” returns for a second season of PBS’ “Anne of Green Gables.” Asked what he thought of the current White House, Sheen said, “We were doing so well now, without any mention of that dark force. So let’s leave it right there, where it belongs.”

Gail Pennington is attending the TV Critics Association summer press tour. Follow her daily updates on Twitter (@gailpennington), Facebook (@tubetalkPD) and stltoday.com/tubetalk.

Gail Pennington • 314-340-8136

TV critic

@gailpennington on Twitter

gpennington@post-dispatch.com

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