James Herriot has made the world a little brighter thanks to his charming, best-selling chronicles of his adventures as a country veterinarian in the picturesque Yorkshire dales of England. And for the past 12 years his delightful stories have been brought magically to life via the acclaimed British TV series All Creatures Great & Small.
Part of the appeal of "Creatures" is the cast: former Royal Shakespeare Company actor Christopher Timothy as Herriot, veteran character actor Robert Hardy as his crusty boss Siegfried Farnon and the winsome Peter Davison ("Campion") as Siegfried's womanizing younger brother Tristan.
The series began airing on PBS syndication 11 years ago. KCET has shown the first 46 episodes off and on since 1979 (the rights are no longer available), and KOCE began airing the repeats earlier this year.
Arts & Entertainment Network has been co-producing the series with the BBC for the past five seasons. This year, besides its usual 12 new episodes (currently in repeats on the cable network), A&E is presenting a two-hour "Creatures" holiday special Monday, which finds Herriot dealing with an outbreak of deadly anthrax and Tristan falling for the local schoolteacher.
"I think there are a lot of reasons why the series has been so popular," said Brooke Johnson, vice president of programming and production for A&E. "The James Herriot books are very popular and the subject matter is unusual. It's not an action-adventure. They are soft, warm, human kind of programs, and there's not a whole lot of that on American TV. The execution is very good. It's beautiful to look at."
A&E originally aired the series late Sunday evenings but has moved it to early Saturday morning and evening. "We tended to get a somewhat older audience," she said. "But we moved it up earlier hoping to get a more family audience and so far, it has been pretty successful."
"Creatures" fans will be happy to learn the latest batch of new episodes are scheduled to begin next month. But Johnson doesn't know how long the series will continue.
"It's tied directly to James Herriot," Johnson said. "The BBC has gone through all of his published works. With the new season, he is doing all the stories. It really depends on how willing he is to go forward, and without him, no one will go forward."
"All Creatures Great & Small Christmas Special" airs Monday at 5 and 9 p.m. on A&E. The new season of "All Creatures Great & Small" airs Saturdays at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. on A&E. Repeat episodes of earlier seasons air Saturday at 7 p.m. on KOCE..