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A marriage made in TV heaven

Eileen Opatut likes to think of herself as a matchmaker setting up trans-Atlantic dates, always hoping for a marriage.

As executive vice president of BBC Lionheart Television, she coordinates all joint productions between PBS and the BBC _ a happy collaboration that has resulted in a shelf full of Emmy awards.

"We look to American PBS as the natural home of the best we have to offer," Opatut said at a dignified "British Breakfast" on Monday sponsored by the BBC at the annual Public Television meeting in this laid-back southern city.

As any PBS viewer knows, the best the BBC has to offer is some of PBS' most popular shows: Masterpiece Theater, Mystery! and the recent Fame in the 20th Century.

What Opatut and BBC controller Michael Jackson stressed over scones and strawberries is that these shows can be made only with American help. "We need to be partners," Jackson said, "not just because it's a nice thing to do but because it's a necessity."

The combined pool of money means more ambitious programs. The American-British partnership also fosters creative brainstorming that allows for a more global view.

Jackson unveiled four new joint productions for 1994 and 1995, the most enticing of which is Dancing in the Street, to debut in fall 1995. The 10-hour series is the first documentary about the evolution of rock 'n' roll. In a split that shows the value of partnerships, the BBC will produce five hours; WGBH in Bostonm, the rest.

The Americans handle Elvis; the British package The Beatles.

Rumor has it they're fighting over Madonna. Oh well, even the best marriages have spats.